Friday, November 05, 2010

Groups Say Obama Has Chance To Protect Polar Bears

Nov 4: A Federal judge ordered the Department of the Interior (DOI) to reconsider its 2008 decision not to provide polar bears the most complete protection possible under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Greenpeace seeking additional protection for the polar bear, which they indicate is under severe threat from global warming.
    In response to a petition from the three conservation groups, the Bush administration in 2008 classified the polar bear as "threatened" -- rather than the more protective "endangered" -- under the ESA. The administration also issued a special rule exempting greenhouse gases -- the primary threat to the species -- from regulation under the Act. The groups indicated that such a rule can only be issued for a species listed as threatened, not endangered. The groups sued, arguing that the polar bear should be listed as "endangered," not merely "threatened."  DOI had argued that even though the polar bear will likely be extinct in most of its range by mid-century, it was not endangered because its extinction was not "imminent."
    In his ruling issued November 4, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan for the District of Columbia, rejected the Department's argument that the text of the ESA clearly states that extinction must be "imminent" before a species can be listed as "endangered" and ordered the Interior Department to reconsider its definition of "endangered" as it applies to the polar bear. Judge Sullivan ordered the Interior Department to reconsider its decision in light of the ruling and file a response by December 23, 2010, and he set a hearing date of February 23, 2011 to consider that response and the rest of the claims in the listing case.

    Kassie Siegel, director of the CBD's Climate Law Institute and lead author of the 2005 petition to Federally protect the polar bear said, "The judge has put the ball squarely in Obama's court. Whether or not the polar bear receives the protections it is legally entitled to and so desperately needs, is now wholly Obama's decision. We hope that rather than continue to defend the flawed policies of the Bush administration, Obama will do right by the polar bear." Andrew Wetzler, Director of NRDC's Land &Wildlife Program said, "We are convinced that any reasonable definition of 'endangered species' includes the polar bear. Climate change is an oncoming train and the bears are tied to the tracks. If nobody is around to undo the knots, it doesn't matter how fast the train is moving -- they are in trouble."

    Dan Howells, Deputy Campaign Director of Greenpeace, "Protecting the polar bear's home is the same as protecting us all from the dangers of climate change. And the best way to do that is to acknowledge the danger of climate change and act on it. The Obama administration can take a step in this direction by giving the bears the protection they deserve."

    Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access the 26-page Memorandum Opinion (click here).