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Groups: Bush rushing to rewrite species rules

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Bush administration provided insufficient time for public comment as it seeks to loosen rules protecting endangered species, representatives of more than 100 conservation groups charged Friday.

The Interior Department set a 30-day public comment period last week on an administration proposal that would allow federal agencies approving or funding dams, highways and other projects to decide for themselves — without input from government experts — whether endangered species are likely to be harmed.

That's half the time that was originally scheduled in a draft obtained by The Associated Press.

A shorter timeframe would give the administration a better chance of imposing the rules before November's presidential election.

Representatives of 103 organizations urged Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in a letter Friday to quadruple the time for public comment from 30 to 120 days and to hold public hearings.

An Interior Department spokeswoman, who had yet to see the letter, said Friday that requests for more time are always considered, but that 30 days was not unusual.

Members of Congress have also requested extensions and public hearings.

Last week, House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.V., along with House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norman Dicks, D-Wash., called for an additional 30 days.

Senate Environment Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer urged the secretaries to suspend further action on the rule altogether. If they chose not to, she asked that the public get six months to scrutinize the proposal, guaranteeing that a final decision would rest with a new president.