For Immediate Release, May 8, 2009
Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Obama Administration Adopts Bush's Polar Bear
Extinction Plan As Its Own
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he will not rescind a “special rule” created by the Bush administration that sharply limits protections for the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.
"For Salazar to adopt Bush's polar bear extinction plan is confirming the worst fears of his tenure as Secretary of the Interior," said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Secretary Salazar would apparently prefer to please Sarah Palin than to protect polar bears."
Congress passed legislation on March 10 giving Secretary Salazar power until May 9 to rescind with the stroke of a pen both the special rule for the polar bear and a rule that exempted thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gas emissions, from review by expert scientists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services. This latter “consultation” rule was revoked by the Obama administration last week, but Secretary Salazar has stated he will allow Bush’s rule eliminating protections for polar bears to stand.
“It makes little sense for Salazar to rescind Bush's national policy barring consideration of global warming impacts to endangered species in general, but keep that exact policy in place for the one species most endangered by global warming — the polar bear,” said Greenwald.
Salazar ignored strong criticism of the rule and requests to revoke it from more than 1,300 scientists, more than 50 prominent legal experts, dozens of lawmakers, more than 130 conservation organizations and hundreds of thousands of members of the public.
The rule severely undermines protection for the polar bear by exempting all activities that occur outside of the polar bears range from review. 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.
“As part of comprehensive efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions, we should take measures to ensure that we’re not unduly harming polar bears and other species threatened by climate change,” said Greenwald. “With its sea-ice habitat rapidly disappearing, the polar bear needs the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
The special rule also reduces the protections the bear would otherwise receive in Alaska from oil industry activities in its habitat.
“Salazar’s decision today is a gift to Big Oil and an affirmation of the pro-industry/ anti-environmental policies of the Bush administration,” said Greenwald. “This is not the change Obama promised.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations are challenging the polar bear special rule in court. Oil-industry organizations, trade associations representing the nation’s largest polluters, and Sarah Palin have intervened in the court case to help Secretary Salazar defend Bush’s extinction rule.
Addressing greenhouse gas emissions under the Endangered Species Act is no different than addressing any other pollutants that have been effectively addressed under the Act for years, such as DDT and other pesticides that had severe impacts to the bald eagle and other species.
Letter from more than 1,300 scientists
Letter from 53 law professors
Letter from eight senators
Letter from U.S. representatives
Letter from California legislators
Letter from more than 130 conservation organizations
Editorial cartoon by Joe Alterio/joealterio.com