Obama Reverses Bush Rewrite of Endangered Species Act

To the delight of many environmental groups, President Obama issued a memorandum Tuesday directing federal agencies to play by the old rules of the Endangered Species Act.  Those rules require agencies that are contemplating any action that could affect an endangered species–such as a highway expansion–to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service prior to taking action.

In mid-December 2008, the Bush administration revised the ESA under the guise of streamlining government projects.  Critics called the move yet another attempt to weaken science-based standards. It wasn’t the first time the ESA had come under attack; Congressional critics, especially from the Western U.S., argued the ESA’s required procedures hampered landowners who had to follow rigorous rules to protect species found on their land and that it also threatened economic development.

A return to the pre-December rule signals to many that Mr. Obama is much more receptive to science–and some environmental concerns–than his predecessor.

The rule could have implications in Kentucky, which is home to a dozen federally recognized endangered species as well as dozens of candidates for the list.  They include several species of freshwater mussels and the white, fringeless orchid.