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New proposed changes to Endangered Species Act could affect New Mexico

actFARMINGTON — A new proposed rule for expanding the reaches of the Endangered Species Act could affect New Mexico energy development, according to a Western Energy Alliance official.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the two federal agencies responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act, proposed two rules and a policy. The changes are meant to improve the process of designating areas of “critical habitat” and consulting on the effects of federal actions on critical habitat. The proposed changes were released in May.

In October, Western Energy Alliance submitted formal comments regarding the proposal.

“It impacts every state. Our comments would apply equally for New Mexico,” said Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance’s president of government and public affairs.

The proposed rules would clarify and further define criteria for designating critical habitats. And the policy would strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s role in designating critical habitats, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

Sgamma said the changes would work against state game and fish agencies because they expand the regulatory reach of the federal agency. She added that local and state governments that are active in enforcing game and fish policies may be less likely to be active because the federal government would have more say in local matters.

“These rules take away that local and state initiative and insert (the Fish and Wildlife Service) more intricately into day-to-day wildlife management, even though it lacks the resources and experience of the states,” she said in a press release.

“They’re proposing a one size fits all policy,” she said in a phone interview.

In a press release, Sgamma said new policies could affect the economy because the changes expand the reach of the Endangered Species Act, and give more authority to an agency than meant by the intent of the original law.

In the biannual assessment of endangered species, New Mexico had 118, according to the New Mexico Game and Fish Department.

Sgamma said the changes would also increase the workload of the two federal agencies.

“It makes no sense for FWS to expand its workload well beyond what it can manage,” she said in the release.

Final rules and policy changes are expected next year.

Erny Zah is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4638 and ezah@daily-times.com. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.

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©2014 The Daily Times (Farmington, N.M.)

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