National Offshore Oil-drilling Plan Stopped
In response to lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Native Village of Point Hope, and others, a federal appeals court last Friday struck down the Department of the Interior's five-year, nationwide plan to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling.
Alaska's Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi seas are home to imperiled species including the bowhead whale, ribbon seal, Pacific walrus, Kittlitz's murrelet -- and, of course, the polar bear -- and they'd all be harmed by expanded oil and gas exploration in their habitat. "We're seeing a whole ecosystem potentially collapse," said Center senior counsel William Snape, who argued the case in D.C. But Interior's Minerals Management Service insisted its drilling plans posed no significant wildlife threat. Just a day before the judges' ruling, the Center attended a rally and hearing on offshore oil and gas leasing with Secretary Salazar in San Francisco, giving testimony on behalf of Alaska's marine wildlife and pressuring Salazar to rescind Bush's rules weakening the Endangered Species Act and protections for the polar bear.
Get more from the New York Times, check out our page about the San Francisco rally -- complete with pictures -- and sign our petition for the polar bear.
Suit Seeks Stop to Sea Turtle Slaughter
To force immediate action to protect sea turtles from the Gulf of Mexico's deadly bottom longline fishery, last week the Center for Biological Diversity and a sextet of allies filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service. Bottom longline fisheries capture, injure, and kill sea turtles (including federally protected loggerheads) that venture too close to fishing vessels' miles-long lines of baited hooks. According to a recent Fisheries Service study, vessels in the Gulf caught nearly 1,000 turtles between July 2006 and December 2008 -- more than eight times the number the agency itself deemed legal under the Endangered Species Act. The agency failed to analyze or release the study's data, allowing hundreds more turtles to be captured. So the Center and allies warned of a lawsuit in January, and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recommended the closure of the Gulf fishery until turtles could be protected. Still, in March, the same turtle-killing fishery reopened for the season.
"The current emergency could have been avoided," said Center attorney Andrea Treece. "Now the agency's only lawful choice is to suspend the bottom longline fishery until the agency figures out how to prevent more turtles from being hurt or killed."
Read more in the Miami Herald.
EPA: Carbon Dioxide Endangers Humanity . . . Pass the Buck
Last Friday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an astonishing proposed regulatory finding: Greenhouse gases emitted by cars and trucks endanger human health and welfare.
This way-past-due "endangerment finding" is the first step toward regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act; it's also the result of the April 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Center for Biological Diversity helped overturn the Bush administration's refusal to regulate vehicle emissions under the Act. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is under powerful pressure from anti-regulatory and industry groups not to issue regulations that actually require Detroit to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from cars and trucks. Instead, the administration wants to pass the buck to Congress to pass a new pollution law without implementing the one that has worked for 30 years. Industry believes it's much more likely to succeed in weakening a new law than in evading a law that already exists.
Read more in the Los Angeles Times. And if you live in San Francisco, check out the movie A Sea Change -- featuring Center attorney Miyoko Sakashita -- to learn about how greenhouse gases affect our oceans.
Florida to Ban Collection of Freshwater Turtles
Thanks to a 2008 Center for Biological Diversity petition, last week the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission published a proposed rule to ban the commercial harvest of wild freshwater turtles in the state's public and private waters. Collecting these turtles not only hurts the turtles themselves -- many of which are imperiled, and all of which are sensitive to harvesting due to their long lives and low reproductive rates -- it also hurts human health, since lots of these terrapins are destined for food markets in Southeast Asia and are contaminated with mercury, PCBs, and other toxins. Closing commercial harvest is a historic first step in moving toward protective legislation for Florida turtles, but concern remains: 25 turtle farmers will still be given free rein on turtle-harvesting till 2011.
One biologist recently assessed the Florida turtle harvest as downright "scary," noting that demand from burgeoning human populations in Asia has created a situation in which "if we harvested every single turtle in Florida and sent every single one to Asia, there would still be a demand for more."
Get more from the Environment News Service.
Center Warns Feds to Protect Bighorn Sheep
In defense of California's majestic and rugged -- but also fragile -- Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, last Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Responsibility notified two federal agencies we'll sue over their failure to adequately protect the wild sheep from deadly diseases. Though the bighorn was declared federally endangered nine years ago -- and its federal recovery plan specifically identifies domestic sheep-grazing allotments as a threat to bighorn recovery -- the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management haven't made any moves to close six grazing allotments in Mono County, where Sierra Nevada bighorns roam. This failure is a blatant violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Our notice of intent to sue gives the agencies 60 days to clean up their act and protect one of the Sierra Nevada Mountains' most iconic species.
Check out our press release and learn more about the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.
Secret Dealings Over Condor's Fate Must Be Unveiled
After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to disclose documents that could be critical to the future of the endangered California condor, last Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity formally appealed the rebuff of our call to view them under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents concern secret negotiations between the feds and Tejon Ranch Company, which owns a huge swath of California land where condors fly, over the ranch's plans to develop protected condor habitat. We seek not only the information to fill in the gaps in data showing condors' use of Tejon Ranch -- which would obviously be affected by development -- but also to shed light on exactly what promises the Service has made concerning the company's request for a permit to "take" (in this case, harass or harm) condors and a related "habitat conservation plan" involving little (if any) conservation.
"Something stinks here," said Center senior counsel Adam Keats. "The public has a right to these documents that concern Tejon's application for a permit to harm California condors and destroy their habitat."
Check out our press release and learn more about California condors and our campaign to save Tejon Ranch.
Documents Show New Threats From Uranium-leasing Program
After newly obtained documents showed the U.S. Department of Energy failed to consider yet more environmental impacts of a 42-square-mile uranium-leasing program in Colorado, last week the Center and allies warned the agency we'll add grievances to a lawsuit we already filed over the program. Uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will deplete Colorado River basin water and may pollute rivers and streams with an A-to-Z list of toxic waste products (from ammonia to zinc), and it would harm numerous endangered species, including the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, and humpback and bonytail chubs. But as the just-obtained documents reveal, despite warnings from the Bureau of Land Management, the Energy Department failed to address its program's consequences for the Colorado, Dolores, and San Miguel rivers and all the species that swim in them.
The Center, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, and Center for Native Ecosystems filed the original suit in 2008, challenging other aspects of the Department's uranium-leasing program. Let's hope the agency takes this opportunity to right its latest wrongs instead of adding yet more.
Get more from the Associated Press.
Seven Billion People and Counting -- So Earth Day Matters More Than Ever
Yesterday, Earth Day was commemorated for the 40th time since 1970 -- this year, by about a billion people. How'd it get so popular? Ironically, it's one of corporate America's favorite advertising events. Wal-Mart is plugging "earth-friendly" stuff like Cheerios and STP gas treatment, while Sony is hyping its new video game Trash Panic and General Motors is providing Earth Day lesson plans for little ones. The Minnesota Beef Council's ludicrous line? "Celebrate Earth Day this year with a juicy, lean cut of beef and know you're making an environmentally responsible and healthy food choice" (and please, don't research the environmental effects of meat production). Never mind the fact that Earth Day 1972 arrived with 4 billion people on the planet, while today we're fast approaching 7 billion meat-and-Cheerio-eating, Wal-Mart-shopping, mass-consuming humans. Hey, anybody think overpopulation might be the biggest focus of future Earth Days? Just a thought. Besides, every day should be Earth Day -- as our friends at Grist.org put it, "One day is for amateurs."
Still, if a billion people have each done just one tiny thing to help the planet this April. . .well, that's better than a poke in the eye. And it doesn't mean we can't celebrate all year, which means today can be Earth Day, too. So go clean up a trail or something -- again -- and keep spreading the word about saving the environment. Because with all the people around today (and with all the advertisers cramping our style), we have a lot more spreading to do.
Read a thoughtful article from Grist.org and learn about the real first Earth Day -- which took place in March -- from the Boston Globe.
Review the Center . . . and Win Prizes
GreatNonprofits.org, a reviewing Web site for -- what else? -- great nonprofits, is hosting their 2009 Green Choice Awards, and the Center is competing. If we get enough rave reviews, we just might win the title of one of the best nonprofits around. All you have to do is log in and share your (great) experience with us by April 29.
Oh, and if you write a review, you can win prizes like earth-friendly wines from Fetzer, a stay at Joie De Vivre hotels, Whole Foods gift certificates, Ben & Jerry's ice cream coupons, and more. (In case you need bribing.)
Check out our profile and write a review.
Photo credits: polar bears by Brendan Cummings; polar bear by David S. Isenberg; loggerhead sea turtle courtesy NPS; traffic jam courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Osvaldo Gaga; Barbour's map turtle courtesy USGS; Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep courtesy California Department of Fish and Game; California condor courtesy Arizona Game and Fish; razorback sucker by Mark Fuller, USFWS; Earth Day symbol courtesy Wikimedia Commons/CC2; bald eagle by William C. Gladish.
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