President Barack Obama's administration reverses George Bush rule on protection of endangered species

• Interior and commerce departments agree
• Government wildlife experts to be consulted on development

The Obama administration overturned one of the most controversial environmental measures of the George Bush era today, striking down a rule that had weakened protection for endangered species.

Officials at the interior and commerce ministries said they had returned to a requirement that government wildlife experts sign off on any new development - mining, logging or road construction - that could hurt animals, fish or plants that are at risk of going extinct.

Today's move was the latest in a series of declarations by Obama officials meant to chip away at the Bush environmental legacy. A number of those measures were put in place in the final hours of the Bush administration, in what became known as "midnight regulations".

Until last December, developers had been required for more than two decades to get approval from government wildlife experts before embarking on new projects. But the Bush administration in its final days brought in a rule leaving it up to businesses to consult with government biologists on the impact of new development.

Environmentalists had accused Bush of effectively gutting protections for threatened or endangered species, and activists had sent more than 70,000 petitions to officials in the Obama administration urging them to cancel the "midnight regulation".
In a statement, the commerce secretary, Gary Locke, and the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, agreed. After a scientific reviewed ordered by Obama last month, they said they had reached the conclusion that such protections were indeed necessary.

"By rolling back this 11th hour regulation we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law, the two men said in a statement. "Federal agencies proposing to take actions that might affect threatened and endangered species will once again have to consult with biologists."

There was no word on another so-called midnight regulation that undermined protection for polar bear, an omission criticised by some activists today.

The move, which had been anticipated, comes just 24 hours after Salazar took steps against another midnight regulation. The interior secretary said he would ask the courts to overturn a last-minute rule that made it easier for coal mining operations engaged in mountaintop removal to dump dirt near streams.


Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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