Washington (AP) - President Barack Obama announced plans Tuesday to resume full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants.
The president signed a memorandum putting on hold a Bush administration regulation allowing agencies to avoid scientific reviews in endangered species decisions.
During a visit to the Interior Department, Obama said the review process had been undermined by past administrations.
"For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife. We should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it," Obama said.
Obama's action puts the Bush regulation on hold until the Interior and Commerce departments complete a review. While on the campaign trail, Obama said he would fight to maintain the protections of the Endangered Species Act and work to undo what was then a proposal by the Bush administration.
The rule, finalized in December, made optional the mandatory, independent consultations federal scientists have performed for 35 years on projects. The reviews have been blamed by developers and federal agencies for delays and cost increases.
Instead, the Bush rule allowed federal agencies to decide for themselves whether projects such as dams and power plants posed risks to endangered species or the places they live.
These changes, which were completed in a relatively short time, were described at the time by the Bush administration as minor. But Democrats and environmentalists have argued that the regulations overhauled long-standing policy.
Democratic leaders in Congress who have been attempting to reverse the rule applauded the president's decision.
"I wholeheartedly support the president's proposal to restore the protections for endangered species that the Bush administration spent so many years trying to undermine," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.
Rahall is pushing to overturn the rule through a congressional resolution. There is also a provision tucked into the $410 billion spending bill the House passed last week that would allow the Interior and Commerce secretaries to withdraw regulations.
Since the rule took effect before Obama was sworn in, overturning it through regulation would require a lengthy review process.
Industry and business representatives said restoring scientific input would only delay projects, including those that will be funded by the recently passed stimulus package.
But Obama, in announcing his decision, said that economic recovery and protecting the environment are not at odds with one another.
"We can grow our economy today," Obama said, "and preserve the environment for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren."
President Barack Obama announced plans Tuesday to resume full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants.