The Bush administration on Monday proposed major changes to the way the Endangered Species Act is enforced, asserting that federal agencies should be able to decide on their own whether projects like highways and dams would be harmful to endangered species, rather than having independent reviewers make the assessments. Here’s a roundup of reactions, from Capitol Hill and beyond:

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), chair of the House committee that oversees the Interior Department, said he is “deeply troubled” by the plan: “This proposed rule … gives federal agencies an unacceptable degree of discretion to decide whether or not to comply with the Endangered Species Act.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called the changes illegal: “This proposed regulation is another in a continuing stream of proposals to repeal our landmark environmental laws through the back door. If this proposed regulation had been in place, it would have undermined our ability to protect the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, and the gray whale.”

Former Rep. Dick Pombo (R-Calif.), who repeatedly tried to overhaul the ESA during his time in Congress, told the AP that neither animals nor habitats would be harmed under the proposed changes: “There is no way [federal agencies] can rubber-stamp everything because they will end up in court for every decision.”

Rob Rivett, president of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights advocacy group, voiced support for the proposal: “Over the years, the Endangered Species Act has become a regulatory nightmare that kills or stalls even the most well-crafted land-use projects. The economy suffers, people suffer, rational environmental planning suffers. Some careful streamlining is long overdue.”

Unsurprisingly, green groups are up in arms:

Said John Kostyack, the National Wildlife Federation’s executive director of wildlife conservation and global warming: “I have been working on the Endangered Species Act for 15 years and have never seen such a sneaky attack. To suggest that our nation’s most important wildlife law could be gutted after a mere 60-day written comment period is the height of arrogance and disrespect for wildlife science.” [As it turns out, the comment period will be only 30 days.]

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, commented, “This plan repeats and includes all of the disdain for science and political trumping of expertise that has characterized previous Bush administration efforts to dismantle fundamental environmental laws. These rules send a clear signal that the administration will spend the rest of its days razing what remains of the rules and regulations that have kept wildlife like the bald eagle from going extinct.”

Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, said in a statement, “These changes clearly threaten to undermine our nation’s commitment to endangered fish, plants, and wildlife. These changes were written by Bush administration’s lawyers who have a tragic track record of weakening protections for species most at-risk of extinction. … It is an invitation for federal agencies to ignore the law until caught and to fast-track oil and gas mining, logging, and development without review of the impacts to our nation’s wildlife, fish, and plants on the brink of extinction. … At a time when species are reaching crisis mode due to climate change, the Bush administration is looking for ways to shirk its responsibility in protecting wildlife.”

Andrew Wetzler, director of the Endangered Species Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a blog post, “The insidiousness of self-consultation is especially plain once you consider that many federal agencies are deeply committed to either certain kinds of projects (the Bureau of Reclamation likes to build dams; the Department of Transportation likes highways) or are entirely sympathetic to particular industries (the Office of Surface Mining, for example). It’s a cliché, but today’s proposal is as clear a case of letting the fox guard the henhouse as you’re ever likely to see.”