Salazar Revokes Bad ESA Rule, But Leaves Polar Bear Death Sentence in Place
Responding to snowballing support from citizens, scientists, and politicians for our nation's sovereign endangered species protection law, this Tuesday Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rescinded the Bush rule that weakened the Endangered Species Act by letting thousands of federal activities -- including those emitting greenhouse gases -- slide past independent review under the Act. But in a key omission, Salazar took no action to quash the Bush administration rule sharply limiting protections under the Act for the polar bear -- a rule exempting the very threats that loom largest for the species, greenhouse gas emissions and oil and gas development, from regulation under the Act. Thanks to legislation passed by Congress in March, Salazar received the authority to rescind both the Endangered Species Act rule and the polar bear rule -- and he only has until May 9 to stick up for the bear.
"Secretary Salazar took an important step toward restoring needed protections for endangered species," said Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's biodiversity program director. "But he still needs to rescind the special rule for the polar bear, which amounts to a death sentence for these majestic animals." Just before Salazar's announcement Tuesday the Center delivered more than 90,000 petitions from supporters, plus letters from 1,300 scientists and more than 130 conservation organizations calling for Salazar to rescind both rules. We'll keep this pressure on till May 9. Meanwhile, according to a major new scientific assessment, climate change is hitting the entire Arctic ecosystem hard -- not just the polar bear, but every form of Arctic life.
Get more on Salazar's latest action (and lack of it) from the Associated Press and read about the new assessment of the Arctic's peril in the UK's Guardian. Most importantly of all, if you haven't already, sign our petition to save the polar bear now.
Obama's 100-day Report Card
This week, the Obama administration hit its big milestone: the first 100 days of the presidency. So it's time to take stock. We doubt our readers will argue with our view that after experiencing the nightmare of the Bush administration, President Barack Obama is . . . well . . . a very welcome upgrade. But what grades would the Center for Biological Diversity give his administration, environment-wise?
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's move to restore science to the Endangered Species Act gets a big, fat gold star. Obama's decisions to strike oil leases and slow oil-shale permitting earn him a "Good job!" and "Nice work!" But Salazar's thus-far neglect of the polar bear? Corporate fuel efficiency standards that fall below Bush's, stripping protections for wolves, and flip-flopping on mountaintop-removal mining and guns in national parks? Hmm. A definite "Needs improvement."
Check out Center Executive Director Kierán Suckling's report card for Obama's first 100 days (and report cards from some other prominent activists, bloggers, economists, and writers) at Salon.com. Read more on Obama's first 100 days in E & E News.
EPA to Withdraw Permit for New Mexico Coal-fired Power Plant
Thanks to appeals by the Center for Biological Diversity and others, this week the Environmental Protection Agency decided to reject a permit approving the Desert Rock power plant in northwestern New Mexico, rightly citing some serious environmental issues the planned plant would pose. Besides emitting mercury and other contaminants in the San Juan river basin, where the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker swim -- and are already afflicted with heavy-metal contamination thanks to three other nearby power plants -- Desert Rock could spew out hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases over its 50-year lifespan, making a hefty contribution to the climate change that endangers us all.
The agency's decision to withdraw the permit for Desert Rock -- called a "prevention of significant deterioration permit" and necessary for the power plant to proceed -- continues a pattern of federal and state agencies, as well as power companies, delaying or cancelling proposed coal-fired plants across the nation as concern grows over their environmental impacts and financial viability. It's high time. And while this probably won't be the last you hear about Desert Rock, we intend to make sure the end's in sight for this project.
Read more in the Durango Herald and New York Times.
New Alliance to Restore Arizona's Once-majestic Ponderosa Forests
Marking a sea change -- or should we say tree change? -- in southwestern forest politics, last Friday the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and Arizona Forest Restoration Products signed a landmark agreement supporting a plan to safely restore beneficial fires and conserve biodiversity in northern Arizona's ponderosa pine forests. After a century of decline and decades of litigation, the agreement focuses industry and conservation groups on a goal of conserving species and ecosystems by conducting strategically located restoration projects that will allow managers to safely re-establish natural fire regimes across entire landscapes. The plan supports the construction of an "oriented-strand-board" plant by Arizona Forest Restoration Project, which will use small trees garnered from ecological restoration projects and create more than 600 jobs.
The agreement seeks to reduce high densities of fire-prone young trees that resulted from a century of old-growth logging, fire suppression, and livestock grazing -- thereby creating conditions where fire can resume its natural sustaining role, both within restoration treatments and across forested landscapes. The effort will amount to one of the nation's largest forest ecosystem restoration programs.
Read more in the East Valley Tribune.
Tejon Ranch Salamander Heads Toward Protection
Last week the Tehachapi slender salamander, a Tejon Ranch denizen a bit less famous than the endangered California condor, got some good news when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the species may warrant federal protection. Tejon Ranch -- a vast, privately owned biodiversity haven north of Los Angeles -- encompasses most of the salamander's last range, limited to the Tehachapi Mountains and southern Sierras. Development plans on Tejon Ranch threaten five of the known locations of the skinny, secretive salamander, which is also threatened by road construction, mining, grazing, and flood-control projects. The species was first petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2006.
"Development of Tejon Ranch poses an immediate threat to the Tehachapi slender salamander and dozens of other species," said the Center for Biological Diversity's Public Lands Deserts Director Ileene Anderson. "If we're going to save California's natural heritage, including this salamander, more land needs to be protected from urban sprawl."
Check out our press release and learn more about our campaign to save Tejon Ranch.
Groups Challenge 49 Oil and Gas Leases in New Mexico
After the Bureau of Land Management announced it would lease 49 parcels of New Mexico public lands for oil and gas development -- with the sale taking place on Earth Day -- last Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed a formal written protest over the government's failure to address the action's global warming implications. Our protest came just days after the Environmental Protection Agency finally issued a proposed finding that greenhouse gases do indeed "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations." In New Mexico, oil and gas production contributes about 25 percent or more of the state's total greenhouse gas emissions.
"Fossil fuel combustion is producing a critical mass of greenhouse gases that has already shifted the planet's climate system into dangerous territory," said Center ecologist Jay Lininger. "It's a cruel irony that the Bureau of Land Management would lease more climate-threatening oil and gas on Earth Day."
Peruse our press release for details and learn more about our campaign to fight dirty energy development on public lands.
Center Speaks Out on Dams Planned Near Panama Nature Preserve
To protect the largest, most diverse virgin rainforest remaining in Central America -- and to help save an imperiled tribe from destruction -- last Thursday Peter Galvin, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, made a personal appearance at the shareholders' meeting for the Virginia-based AES Corporation regarding three hydroelectric dams planned for an area of rainforest in Panama. The dams would be built in the buffer zone of La Amistad International Park, an internationally recognized World Heritage Site boasting astounding biodiversity and one of the last refuges for endangered species like the jaguar, ocelot, and resplendent quetzal. The AES Corporation plans to build three hydroelectric dams on the Changuinola River, the Park's lifeblood, which would also flood the villages of the Ngobe tribe and endanger its livelihood.
The Center and allies petitioned in 2007 to deem the park a World Heritage Site "in danger" from the dams; we've also aided Panamanian environmental lawyers in challenging the dams and mobilized public comments against them. At Thursday's AES shareholder meeting, Galvin distributed information on the dams' evil effects and urged the company to abandon the ill-fated project.
Check out our press release, where you can read Galvin's letter to the AES president, and learn more about our Central America campaign.
Livestock Convert Habitat and Taxes Into Greenhouse Gases
$115 million: That's the amount the federal government loses each year administering ecologically destructive livestock grazing on public lands. $1.35: That's the amount ranchers pay to graze one cow and calf on public lands for an entire month -- about 40 cents more than you'd pay for a 13-ounce can of dog food. In Arizona, livestock grazing has contributed to the imperilment of 70 of 116 species listed by the state as threatened or already eliminated from the area. And global livestock "emissions" -- that'd be cows' burps and farts -- now account for 37 percent of all human-induced methane (which is 23 times as climate-warming as CO2).
Because bleeding tax dollars to destroy ecosystems, species, and the climate seems ludicrous, the Center this year amended a petition we filed in 2005 that seeks to increase federal grazing fees; our amendment also requests that the feds assess the relationship of public-lands grazing to global warming. This week, the Obama administration agreed to review our petition, but only time will tell whether the administration has the guts to err on the side of sanity instead of the great western livestock lobby. We'll keep you posted.
Read an article on the debate over regulation of livestock emissions in the Yankton Press and Dakotan.
Hear Audio From the Center's Latest Biodiversity Briefing
In the most recent installment of the Center's quarterly "Biodiversity Briefing" series, the Center's Public Lands Energy Director Amy Atwood and Executive Director Kierán Suckling spoke about one of the most pressing problems facing our public lands today: energy development. Thanks to the legacy of the Bush administration, public lands have seen both an increase in independent energy-development projects and looming large-scale planning efforts that would doom habitat and wildlands to destruction by oil and gas leasing, coal-fired power plants, oil shale and tar sands development, energy corridors, and coal and uranium mining -- in addition to dooming our climate by contributing to global warming. In the briefing, Amy and Kierán addressed these problems, described what the Center's been doing to solve them, and talked about the guidance needed to make sure the right kind of energy projects -- solar, wind, and geothermal -- are carried out in the right way and in the right places.
We invite you to listen to a recording of the first part of the briefing, and then find out more about dirty energy development on public lands. For information on how you can join the Center's Leadership Circle and be invited to participate in Biodiversity Briefings live when they happen, email Development Director Jennifer Shepherd or call her at (520) 396-1135.
Photo credits: polar bears and petitions by Chloe Canela; polar bears by Scott Schliebe, USFWS; President Barack Obama courtesy Wikimedia Commons/The Obama-Biden Transition Project; razorback sucker by Mark Fuller, USFWS; ponderosa pine courtesy Wikimedia Commons/MPF under the Gnu free documentation license; Tehachapi slender salamander (c) Gary Nafis; Sespe oil field courtesy Los Padres National Forest Watch; forest in La Amistad courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Dirk van der Made under the Gnu free documentation license; cow (c) Danile Schwen; oil refinery courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Walter Siegmund under the Gnu free documentation license.
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