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Briefs (left)

House Votes for Changes
In Endangered Species Act

By Felicity Barringer

By a vote of 229-193, the House of Representatives moved Thursday to undo some of the central provisions of the 32-year-old Endangered Species Act and to require that agencies enforcing the law reimburse property owners if the law’s impact reduces the value of their land.

Environmental groups expressed deep dismay at the measure, which, if enacted into law, would represent one of the most far-reaching reversals of environmental policy in more than a decade. Leading Democrats in the House also charged that it created an unlimited financial entitlement for landowners.

But the prospects for Senate passage are cloudy at best. Even the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Richard Pombo of California, the chairman of the House Resources committee, said he did not expect quick action in the Senate.

The vote, which came after the defeat of a rival measure that reworked the law but required enforceable protections for animals and plants in danger of extinction, was the culmination of a 12-year legislative mission by Pombo. The Bush administration gave its formal support to the measure a few hours before the vote.

U.S. to Ban Imports of Beluga Caviar to Protect Endangered Fish

By Felicity Barringer and Florence Fabricant

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday that it would ban the import of caviar and other products from beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, after caviar-exporting countries in the region failed to provide details of their plans to conserve the fish.

The species is internationally recognized as threatened with extinction. Beluga caviar is still available from countries in the Black Sea region, but information from three nations there is under review.

The United States consumes 60 percent of the world exports of beluga caviar, a $200-an-ounce delicacy, the Rolls-Royce of caviars. Demand by the luxury food market for the black, cured roe has led to decades of overfishing, and stocks have dwindled sharply, particularly in the Caspian Sea, where the population of beluga sturgeon has declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years.

An article in the September issue of Science magazine cited Mohammad Pourkazemi, director of the International Sturgeon Research Institute in Iran, as saying that the most recent survey of the Caspian sturgeon population shows sturgeon stocks declined as much as 30 percent in the last year alone.

N.Y. Times Reporter Freed From Detention After Agreeing to Testify

By David Johnston and Douglas Jehl

Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who has been jailed since July 6 for refusing to testify in the CIA leak case, was released from a Virginia detention center on Thursday afternoon after she and her lawyers reached an agreement with a federal prosecutor to testify before a grand jury investigating the matter, the paper’s publisher and executive editor said.

Miller was freed after spending more than 12 weeks in jail, during which she refused to cooperate with the criminal inquiry. Her decision to testify came after she obtained what she described as a waiver offered “voluntarily and personally” by a source who said she was no longer bound by any pledge of confidentiality she made to him. She said the source had made clear that he genuinely wanted her to testify.

That source was I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, according to people who have been officially briefed on the case.