For Immediate Release, April 28, 2009
Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Secretary Salazar Rescinds Bush Regulations Weakening
Endangered Species Act, But Leaves Polar Bear Extinction Rule in Place
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Utilizing authority granted to him by Congress, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rescinded a rule passed in the final days of the Bush administration that weakens the Endangered Species Act by exempting thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under the Endangered Species Act. Salazar, however, did not take action to rescind a rule that sharply limits protections for the threatened polar bear despite having authority to rescind this rule as well.
“Secretary Salazar took an important step today toward restoring needed protections for endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “But he still needs to rescind the special rule for the polar bear, which amounts to a death sentence for the majestic bear because it exempts greenhouse gas emissions from regulation.”
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 until May 9. Should Salazar fail to rescind the “special rule” for the polar bear, he will severely undermine protection for the species. The rule prohibits regulation of any activities threatening the polar bear that occur outside of the Arctic. The polar bear, however, is endangered precisely because of activities occurring outside the Arctic, namely emission of greenhouse gases and resulting warming that is leading to the rapid disappearance of summer sea ice.
“The polar bear’s Arctic sea-ice habitat is melting away,” said Greenwald. “If the special rule is not struck down, the polar bear is likely to be the first large mammal to go extinct due to global warming in the United States.”
Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on sea ice for all their essential needs. That ice is rapidly disappearing, reaching an all-time low in 2007, when the Arctic ice cap shrank by a record 1 million square miles — equivalent to an area six times the size of California — below average, reaching levels not predicted to occur until mid-century. Several leading scientists have now stated that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in the summer by 2012. In response to loss of sea ice, polar bears are already suffering starvation, drowning, and population declines. Leaving the special rule in place will ensure that the primary threat to the polar bear is not addressed.