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White House Ignores Supreme Court, Punts Global Warming Decision to Next Administration

In a remarkable show of distain for public safety, environmental laws, the Supreme Court, and all living things, the White House announced last week that it would not make a legally required finding as to whether greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks "endanger public health or welfare." It was ordered to make the finding by the Supreme Court in 2007 due to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and a large coalition of environmental groups, states, and cities. It instead will take public comments while delaying any decision until the next administration takes over.

Going against its own draft December 2008 conclusion that greenhouse gases indeed "endanger public health or welfare," the agency's final document contains no conclusion at all. It does, however, show that the president's current emissions plan falls far short of attaining the recommended "safe haven" goal of reduced atmospheric carbon levels -- which scientists have declared to be 350 parts per million.

Read more at MSNBC.

Voicemail Misstep: Dick Cheney(?) Leaves Me a Message

Angered by my criticism of the White House's refusal to enact global warming policy, or even obey the Supreme Court's order to determine if greenhouse gases "endangered public health or welfare," a supporter of our good president left this message on my voicemail. The complaint is so disconnected from reality (Is global warming really a Marxist conspiracy?) that I initially thought the caller must be Dick Cheney. Cheney was cleared, however, when we determined he was meeting with the president of Exxon at the time the call was left. Perhaps it was Scooter Libby.

If you're reading this, Dick, I'll be happy to play your voicemail response next week.

Court Orders Crackdown on Minnesota Lynx Trapping

Responding to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, a Minneapolis federal court this Monday ordered the state of Minnesota to crack down on illegal trapping of imperiled Canada lynx by restricting traps and snares in lynx habitat, banning use of fresh meat as bait, establishing a hotline to receive reports of trapped lynx, and rehabilitating lynx that are accidentally caught.

The Canada lynx, protected under the Endangered Species Act since 2000, owes its first dramatic declines to trapping, and it's now additionally at risk from habitat loss. The regal cat can't afford more trapping casualties.

Learn more from the Associated Press.

California Hearts Polar Bears, Penguins

This month, California sounded a symbolic clarion call to protect some of the hardest-hit victims of global warming -- penguins and polar bears. A new resolution, passed by California's Senate July 3, expresses the state's support for full Endangered Species Act protection for polar bears and 10 penguin species threatened by global warming. It points out that the administration has missed deadlines for deciding whether to protect 10 penguin species threatened by global warming, and that Interior Secretary Kempthorne has dramatically and wrongfully cut protections for the polar bear under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The resolution urges policymakers to bring about a "rapid, dramatic reduction" in greenhouse gases, and to use the Endangered Species Act the way it was meant to be used: to protect species in need.

The Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear was won by a Center for Biological Diversity petition and two lawsuits. The government has not yet finished processing our petition to list the penguins as endangered.

Read a copy of the resolution itself.

Delta Smelt May Finally Get Status Upgrade

More than two years after the filing of a scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an initial positive finding that the Delta smelt should be upgraded from "threatened" to "endangered" status. The smelt, one of the San Francisco Bay-Delta's many species of imperiled fish, is a key indicator of the health of the ecosystem -- and by all indications, the area and its fish are in big trouble. Record-high water diversions, pollutants, and harmful nonnative species have left the Delta in critical condition, and the population of its namesake smelt has plummeted since it was declared threatened in 1993. This summer, the smelt's abundance is the fourth lowest it's been for about a half-century. And threats are only getting worse.

In response to a 2007 Center petition, the state of California is also considering upgrading the smelt's status under its own Endangered Species Act. If the "smeltdown in the Delta" is to ever be halted, the fish's peril must be recognized at both the state and federal level.

Read more in the New York Times.

Santa Fe on the Road to Less Off-road Destruction

Last week, New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest released its initial proposal to deal with off-road vehicles throughout the forest, taking the first steps in developing a comprehensive travel-management plan. Under the new proposal, roads on the forest will be reduced by 47 percent, helping protect habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, goshawk, Jemez mountain salamander, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout from off-road vehicles' grinding wheels and polluting tailpipes. Motorized recreation is one of the worst threats to national forests -- so in 2005, the Forest Service issued its Travel Management Rule, calling for all national forests to better manage travel routes.

Of course, the Santa Fe's proposed plan has its flaws -- some illegally created trails will be made legitimate, and the number of roads allowed in certain areas may be increased. The Center for Biological Diversity is keeping a watchful eye on further developments.

Read more in the Las Cruces Sun News and find out about the forest's upcoming public meetings.

Deserts: The Missing Sink?

Prepare to move over, forests: You may not be the only carbon-dioxide gulping ecosystems. Researchers have recently discovered that some arid areas -- specifically, China's Gubantongutt Desert and Nevada's Mojave Desert -- are soaking up large amounts of carbon at night, and it's not the sparse desert plants doing the soaking... it's the soil. In fact, if the Mojave and Gubantogutt findings represent all desert and semiarid regions, 35 percent of the Earth's surface soil could be absorbing about half the carbon emitted by fossil fuels each year. Other scientists, however, are skeptical that the findings can be generalized, and worry that the carbon might be re-emitted during the day.

Scientists have been baffled over what happens to all our carbon. While atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels are rising -- and fast -- more carbon dioxide is being absorbed by the planet than we can account for, so there must be a carbon "sink" missing link taking care of all those extra molecules. If that sink is our deserts, well, that's one more reason to preserve them.

Learn more from Science.

EPA: Your Life Is Worth Less Than Ever

It may seem callous to put a dollar value on a human life -- OK, it is callous -- but at least the Environmental Protection Agency uses a really high value. At least, it used to. This May, the agency's "value of a statistical life," which the government uses to weigh costs versus benefits when approving environmental regulations, fell to a new low of $6.9 million, down almost a million from five years ago. The number is largely calculated based on what businesses are willing to pay people working dangerous jobs. Judging by the agency's latest refusal to confront global warming's harmful effects, it sure must think people are stingy.

Learn details from the Associated Press.

Calling All Working Assets and CREDO Customers: The Center Needs Your Vote

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Each year, Working Assets donates a portion of its customers' charges to a select group of progressive organizations like ours. We're excited to be on the ballot, but the percentage of votes we get from customers will determine how much we receive at the end of the year. If you get your phone service or credit card from Working Assets or are a CREDO wireless customer, you can go to the Working Assets voting page and assign maximum points to the Center (we're in the Environment section). Please support us and cast your vote now.

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KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Delta smelt by B. Moose Peterson, USFWS; Richard Cheney courtesy of Executive Office of the President; Canada lynx courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; African penguin by Bob Fleming; off-road vehicle damage by Chris Kassar; Mojave Desert courtesy of USGS; dollar bill by Wikipedia.

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