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E-M:/ Heads Up US Supreme Court

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Endangered Species Act Upheld

.c The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court today rejected a challenge to the federal
Endangered Species Act by California officials wanting to build a hospital in
an area inhabited by a type of fly that faces possible extinction.

The court, without comment, turned down San Bernardino County's argument that
using the federal law to protect creatures that live in only one state goes
beyond Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce.

About half the 1,082 species designated under the law as threatened or in
danger of extinction are found in one state alone.

The county urged the justices to use the case to clarify, and perhaps build
on, their 1995 ruling that struck down a federal law banning gun possession
near schools on grounds such possession was not related to interstate
commerce. That decision was the first since the New Deal era of the 1930s in
which the court ruled that Congress exceeded its authority to regulate
interstate commerce.

The California case involved the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly, which lives
only in parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. More than 97 percent
of the fly's habitat has been destroyed, and its population has been estimated
in the low hundreds.

In 1992, San Bernardino County officials decided to buy a 76-acre site to
build a new county hospital.

The land included Delhi fly habitat, and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service
notified officials the fly was likely to be listed as an endangered species.
The fly was listed as endangered in 1993.

The Endangered Species Act generally makes it unlawful to harm or kill
wildlife listed as in danger of extinction. However, the government issues
permits allowing some incidental harm that is not likely to jeopardize an
endangered species' existence.

The county modified some of its hospital plans to accommodate the fly. But in
late 1995 the county, the cities of Colton and Fontana, the National
Association of Home Builders and the Building Industry Legal Defense
Foundation sued the federal government. They said the federal law could not be
used to protect a species that lives in one state on nonfederal land.

The lawsuit said the fly is not related to interstate commerce, and therefore
its protection must be left to the state.

A federal judge ruled against those who sued, and a three-judge panel of the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed. Two of the
three judges said the loss of animal diversity has a substantial effect on
interstate commerce.

In the appeal acted on today, the county's lawyers asked the justices to
decide whether Congress can ``regulate land use in isolated corners of the
United States.''

Clinton administration lawyers urged the justices to reject the appeal. They
said the disputed federal law reflects ``congressional concern about the
accelerating pace of extinctions'' and inadequate state efforts to protect
endangered species.

The case is National Association of Home Builders vs. Babbitt, 97-1451.

AP-NY-06-22-98 1314EDT

 Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.  The information  contained in the AP
news report may not be published,  broadcast, rewritten or otherwise
distributed without  prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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