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For Immediate Release, April 14, 2009

Contact: Rebecca Noblin, (907) 274-1110

Center for Biological Diversity Delivers 52,000 Petitions to Interior
Secretary Salazar in Anchorage Requesting He Rescind Bush Regulations
That Weaken the Endangered Species Act

Calls for Abandoning Drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Center for Biological Diversity today delivered 52,000 petitions to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting that he rescind two rules passed in the final days of the Bush administration that weaken the Endangered Species Act. One of these rules exempts thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under the Endangered Species Act, and the other sharply limits protections for the threatened polar bear. Secretary Salazar was in Anchorage for hearings on oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Under the Bush administration rules, the impacts of such drilling on climate and the polar bear would be exempt from consideration under the Endangered Species Act.

During testimony to Secretary Salazar, Rebecca Noblin, staff attorney with the Center in Anchorage, highlighted the peril faced by polar bears, walrus, and other ice-dependent species because of climate change related warming that has affected the Arctic more than anywhere else on the planet. Noblin called for Secretary Salazar to abandon OCS drilling and rescind the Bush administration rules. She also presented the secretary with the 52,000 petitions, to which he responded that “52,000 is a lot of petitions.”

“We hope that Interior Secretary Salazar will hear the American people and Congress immediately revoke the damaging Bush Endangered Species Rules by the May 9 deadline,” said Noblin. “Polar bears don’t have any more time to wait. They need full protection now.”

Congress passed legislation on March 10 giving Secretary Salazar power during the following 60 days to rescind both rules with the stroke of a pen or until May 9. Despite the fact that 35 days have passed, Secretary Salazar has given no indication of whether he will use the power granted by Congress. On April 3, 44 members of the House of Representatives, including seven committee chairman and several other high-ranking leaders, sent a letter to secretaries Salazar and Locke urging them to use the authority to rescind the rules. The 52,000 petitions echo Congress’s call to rescind the rules immediately.

“These regulations are a recipe for extinction for the polar bear and hundreds of other endangered species,” said Noblin. “We need to know whether Secretary Salazar will live up to President Obama’s commitment to support a strong Endangered Species Act.”

The Bush rules allow federal agencies to determine for themselves whether their actions are likely to harm endangered species and thus whether they need independent scientific review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services. The rules also prohibit any consideration of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from federal projects on endangered species like the polar bear. Greenhouse gas emissions are currently predicted to result in loss of two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population by 2050. If the rules are allowed to remain in place, the Fish and Wildlife Service will not be able to consider and mitigate such impacts.

Many of the species that call Alaska’s outer continental shelf home — including threatened polar bears, Pacific walruses, and ice seals — face dire threats from climate change. Saving these species from offshore oil development and climate change will require the full protections of the Endangered Species Act.

“Faced with catastrophic climate change, abandoning oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf is the only sound energy policy,” said Noblin. “We hope Secretary Salazar will heed the calls of conservationists, fisherman, and native peoples and stop new oil drilling in Alaska.”

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