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Environmentalists Say Interior Caved to Business

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In its latest trashing of environmental laws, the Interior Department has weakened wildlife and habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act by allowing federal agencies to determine, without expert oversight, that their actions will have no adverse effect on threatened species, five environmental groups declare in Federal Court.

The defendants - the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the National Marine Fisheries Service - also violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not preparing a complete environmental impact statement assessing the regulations, but relying on a flawed and incomplete environmental assessment, the plaintiffs say.

Plaintiffs are the National Resources Defense Council, Conservation Northwest, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, Sierra Club, and the Humane Society of the United States.

They claim a new rule under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act "redefines what constitutes an effect subject to mandatory consultations with the Services under Section 7 of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1536 ... greatly expanding the circumstances in which no Section consultations are required. The new regulations also allow the termination of section 7 informal consultations without concurrence from the Services regardless of effects to species and habitats.

"The new regulations and the Services' actions in promulgating the regulations are arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the requirements of the ESA."

They want the Final Rule vacated. Their lead counsel is Bristen Boyes with EarthJustice of Seattle.

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