Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bush attacked over wildlife plan

President George W Bush, 19 Nov
The Bush administration wants to help mining and drilling projects go ahead

US environmentalists have accused President George W Bush of trying to rush through changes to the Endangered Species Act in his last days in office.

They say the changes could take away protection for animals and plants facing possible extinction.

The Bush administration wants to make it easier for drilling, mining and major construction projects to go ahead without a full scientific assessment.

Under current rules, the impact of such projects must be assessed by experts.

The changes proposed by the Bush administration would let federal agencies make the decisions without a full scientific assessment as to the likely impact on the environment.

Republican supporters of the changes, along with developers and some federal agencies, argue that the current system of environmental reviews causes delays to projects, pushing up costs.

The White House denies that the late spate of rule changes is politically motivated.

Legal challenge

However, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House of Representatives would be looking at ways to overturn the "one-minute-to-midnight" rules.

"The House... will review what oversight tools are at our disposal regarding this and other last-minute attempts to inflict severe damage to the law in the waning moments of the Bush administration," said spokesman Drew Hammill.

Mr Bush has until Friday to publish the new rules. Most regulations take effect 60 days after publication, and Mr Bush wants them in place before he leaves the White House.

This will make it harder for president-elect Barack Obama to undo them when he takes office on 20 January 2009.

Mr Obama's chief of transition, John Podesta, has said the incoming president will review the last-minute actions, and seek to repeal those that are "not in the interests of the country".

The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says that if Mr Bush presses ahead, environmental groups and some states are almost certain to challenge the decision in the courts.

Mr Bush has already been criticised by environmentalists for adding fewer than 10 species of plant and animals a year to the endangered list.

That contrasts with former President Bill Clinton, who added an average of 65 species a year.

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