Department of Interior also enacts policies to try and prevent ruling from having any impact on greenhouse gas emissions
The information below is excerpted from an e-mail I just received from Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. I couldn’t agree more. The present administration is clearly trying to have it both ways. Forced by law to declare the polar bear as a Threatened species, the Bush administration is also attempting at the same time to enact policies that will prevent the polar bear declaration from having any effect. That’s not how the Endangered Species Act works. They’re not going to get away with it. /Gary
In a watershed moment in the battle to control global warming, the U.S. Department of Interior on Wednesday declared the polar bear to be “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was based on research by the U.S. Geological Service indicating that most of the summer sea ice in the Arctic is likely to disappear by 2050, causing the extinction of two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, including all bears in Alaska.
The U.S.G.S. models are conservative in that actual sea ice melting is happening at a faster rate than predicted. The 2007 summer sea ice melt was the greatest in recorded history and scientists fear that 2008 is shaping up to be even worse.
The Bush administration did not want to list the polar bear as a threatened species or to admit that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of its imperilment. It was forced to do so because of the Endangered Species Act’s unique and powerful requirement that listing decisions be based solely on the “best available scientific information.” …
In a schizophrenic turn, however, on Wednesday the administration also enacted policies designed to prevent the listing decision from having any regulatory impact on runaway greenhouse gas emissions. While these policies are illegal and certain to be overturned in court, they indicate that the lame duck administration will continue to oppose all efforts to regulate greenhouse gasses.
1. Refused to designate critical habitat.
The Endangered Species Act requires that all listing decisions map out specific critical habitat areas necessary for the recovery of threatened species. Since habitat loss is the overwhelming threat to polar bears, the listing decision should have designated large swaths of the Arctic as “critical habitat.” The designation would has redirected the regulatory scope from individual polar bears to the ecosystem itself and establish a clear legal link between greenhouse gas emissions and the protected habitat.
2. Exempted greenhouse gasses from the Endangered Species Act.
The purpose of an Endangered Species Act listing is to reduce or eliminate the primary threats causing a species to go extinct. In this case, it is spiraling greenhouse gas emissions. The listing therefore, should establish a regulatory framework for reviewing federal decisions to adopt fuel economy standards, approve coal-fired power plants, establish regional energy corridors, etc. The Endangered Species Act requires that all such federal decisions be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to implementation.
To avoid any regulatory limits on major greenhouse gas emission sources, the Department of Interior issued a “special rule” on Wednesday (also called a 4(d) rule) which suspended all independent requirements regarding the “take” of polar bears in favor of the already existing and weaker provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It also issued a “scientific finding” that current science is insufficient to establish a causal link between specific greenhouse gas emission sources and harm to individual polar bears. Lastly, it declared it will not allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to interfere in decisions by other agencies or corporations even if those decisions lead to more greenhouse gas emissions and continued melting of Arctic sea ice.
In deathly fear that the threatened listing will start to have an actual conservation effect, the Department of Interior enacted the policies on an immediate emergency basis prior to even taking public comment on them. Thus after delaying protection for the polar bear for several years, the only emergency in the administration’s eyes is the possibility that conservation actions might occur.
BACK TO COURT
Due to the clarity of the Endangered Species Act, however, the Department of Interior’s bureaucratic gymnastics are a futile exercise. Critical habitat is required by the Act. The Center for Biological Diversity will go back to court and obtain a court order to have it designated. Spiraling greenhouse gas emissions are unquestionably the greatest threat to the polar bear and its habitat. The Center will return to court and have the administration’s bizarre policy directive to ignore greenhouse gasses overturned.
But meanwhile, greenhouse gasses will continue to be unregulated, the Arctic will continue to melt, and polar bears will continue to slide toward extinction.
This could all be avoided if the administration simply played it straight, obeyed the law, set its sights on developing meaningful national greenhouse gas policy instead of hiding its head in the sand.
— Kieran Suckling, executive director, Center for Biological Diversity
New York Times, Polar Bear Is Made a Protected Species
Christian Science Monitor, US puts polar bears as threatened
ABC News: Government: Polar Bear to Be ‘Threatened’ Species
Center for Biological Diversity, polar bear website
Department of Interior, polar bear website