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WASHINGTON — Just months before President Bush leaves office, his administration is antagonizing environmentalists by proposing changes that would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether subdivisions, dams, highways and other projects have the potential to harm endangered animals and plants.
The proposal, first reported by The Associated Press, would cut out the advice of government scientists who have been weighing in on such decisions for 35 years. Agencies also could not consider a project's contribution to global warming in their analysis.
Reaction was swift from Democrats and environmental groups.
The chairman of the House committee that oversees the Interior Department, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said he was "deeply troubled." Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., head of the Senate's environment committee, said Bush's plan was illegal. Environmentalists complained the proposals would gut protections for endangered animals and plants.
"This proposed rule ... gives federal agencies an unacceptable degree of discretion to decide whether or not to comply with the Endangered Species Act," Rahall said.