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Gulf Disaster: One Month Since BP Explosion -- Massive Suit Filed to Stop Illegal Drilling Exemptions

Today marks the one-month anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico BP oil-spill catastrophe -- and the oil is still gushing, with no end in sight as each fix, untested in deep water, continues to fail. Attempting to break up the oil, BP has released about 655,000 gallons of toxic chemical dispersants, some banned in the UK, into the Gulf. In response to the big unknown about how these will affect marine life, our scientists just posted a new Web page.

Experts now estimate that the spill has already disgorged about 30 million gallons of oil into the Gulf -- nearly three times the amount spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, though BP continues to refuse to help scientists determine exactly how much oil is really spilling each day. It's predicted that oil caught up in the Gulf's powerful Loop Current will reach Key West by the weekend and could reach Miami next week.

Twelve dead bottlenose dolphins, 24 dead oiled birds, and 156 dead Kemp's ridley sea turtles -- more than three times the usual number of sea turtles found dead during spring nesting season -- have washed up on the coastline. Twelve oiled birds have been rescued and are still alive.

Yet as the Gulf disaster grows, the Interior Department has blithely continued to approve more Gulf drilling without environmental review. The Center filed a landmark suit this week against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar over the use of illegal "categorical exclusions" that exempted Big Oil from conducting necessary review of environmental impacts to endangered species and their habitats -- first exposed in The Washington Post covering the Center's Gulf research.

"Ken Salazar has learned absolutely nothing from this national catastrophe," said Kierán Suckling, Center executive director. "This lawsuit seeks to turn Salazar's fictitious 'moratorium' on oil-drilling approvals into a real one. It is outrageous and unacceptable that Salazar is still illegally exempting dangerous offshore drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico from all environmental review as tens of millions of gallons of oil gush into the ocean."

Read more in The Washington Post and click here for our press release on the new suit. Also, check out the Center's new dispersants Web page and get details and daily updates on our Gulf Disaster Web site.

Shell Oil Is 48 Days From Arctic Drilling -- Help Stop Next Disaster

It's not only the one-month anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion -- it's also 48 days till Shell Oil starts its planned oil exploration in the Arctic. This July, Shell plans to begin exploratory oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, which would harm and harass endangered species like polar bears and ice seals -- as well as putting the entire Arctic ecosystem at risk of an oil spill even worse than the Gulf of Mexico disaster. The cold reality is that an Arctic spill could be immeasurably worse than the current one because there's no way to clean up a massive oil spill in the frozen, broken-ice conditions that prevail in the Arctic for much of the year. In fact, the ice-free drilling season is so short in the Arctic -- July to early October -- that leaking oil from an accident there like the one in the Gulf could continue to gush for an entire winter while efforts to drill a relief well had to be postponed.

Yet the Obama administration is allowing Shell's drilling to move forward in little more than a month -- with no proper environmental analysis and with the same technology used by BP in the Gulf. The Center for Biological Diversity and allies sued to stop the drilling, but last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed our challenge. Immediately afterward, we issued a formal statement vowing to continue our work to stop Shell's dangerous project: "With 48 days to go before Shell is slated to move forward, we will continue to press our request to the Obama administration to re-evaluate its approval of the Shell drilling plans in light of the Gulf spill, and to suspend drilling that we knew was risky even before the massive failure in the Gulf once again exposed that drilling is indeed a dirty and dangerous business."

Help us stop this ticking time bomb in the Arctic by sending a letter to President Obama today urging him to rescind his decision to allow Shell's drilling this summer. Read more about our case against Shell in the Anchorage Daily News.

Bay Area Species Win Historic Restrictions on 75 Pesticides

Due to a legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity, this week a federal court signed an injunction requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the effects of 75 poisonous pesticides on 11 endangered species in the San Francisco Bay and Delta area -- and to restrict uses of those chemicals in and near wildlife habitats until evaluations are done (within the next five years). Despite the EPA's legal obligation to avoid authorizing pesticide uses that threaten endangered species, the agency has consistently failed to do so, endangering Bay Area species like the Alameda whipsnake, bay checkerspot butterfly, delta smelt, and San Joaquin kit fox in the process -- hence our lawsuit, which we filed in 2007.

Reported pesticide use in the Bay Area is a staggering 10 million pounds every year -- with actual pesticide use estimated to be several times that amount. Said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center, "These pesticide-use restrictions will protect some of the Bay Area's most vulnerable wildlife from inappropriate use of toxic pesticides."

Get more from Palo Alto Online.

Center Challenges 400-plus Oil Projects Endangering Whales, Dolphins in Gulf

Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for his wholesale disregard of marine-mammal protection laws when approving offshore oil-drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Since Salazar took office in 2009, he has approved three lease sales, more than 100 seismic surveys, and more than 300 drilling operations in the Gulf without permits required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. Seismic exploration surveys, used by oil companies to search for oil, generate sounds loud enough to cause hearing loss in marine mammals and can disturb essential activities like feeding, breeding, and communication; a single seismic survey in 2007 exposed an estimated 3,000-plus whales and dolphins in the Gulf to dangerous noise. And with oil still gushing from the BP oil-spill disaster, it's clearer than ever that we can't risk the lives of endangered ocean creatures for the sake of oil exploration.

The Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammals Protection Act prohibit private entities -- like oil companies -- as well as federal agencies -- like the Minerals Management Service -- from undertaking marine mammal-harming projects without a permit and without taking steps to minimize impacts. The Endangered Species Act protects endangered species like the sperm whale and Florida manatee, while the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all marine mammals.

Get more from Reuters.

Third Suit Filed to Protect Kangaroo Rat, Wildlife Preserve

Last week the Center for Biological Diversity went to court for the third time to ward off development that would harm the Stephens' kangaroo rat and other endangered species in Southern California. Our suit, filed with the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Friends of Riverside's Hills, challenges an industrial warehouse project planned for the last natural connection between Riverside County's Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park and March Stephens' Kangaroo Rat Preserve -- an area also home to the bobcat, burrowing owls, the least Bell's vireo, and the coast horned lizard. "Protecting the connections between wildlife areas is absolutely critical," said the Center's Jonathan Evans. "Sacrificing our natural heritage for another vacant warehouse is a bad deal for wildlife and all Southern Californians."

Last week's lawsuit is part of a series of legal challenges to development proposals on western Riverside's few remaining natural places. As a result of one of our suits, last month a settlement overturned a decision to develop the 1,100-acre kangaroo rat preserve itself.

Read more in the Press-Enterprise.

Deadly Bat Disease Looms Over West, Center Pushes for State Action

This month, the devastating bat disease known as white-nose syndrome -- which has already killed more than a million bats across the eastern United States -- was confirmed for the first time west of the Mississippi River. In response, the Center for Biological Diversity sent letters to wildlife agencies in all the lower 48 states to become more proactive in addressing the syndrome -- in particular, asking states for actions to minimize the chance of human-caused disease transmission through closing state-owned bat caves, public education, supporting pro-bat private landowners, and -- for western states -- the creation of white-nose response plans. Last Friday, the Center also joined other groups in writing a letter to the Senate requesting a desperately needed increase in federal funding to fight the bat crisis nationwide, calling for $5 million for 2011 -- rather than the paltry $1.9 million set aside for this year. Scientists have recommended devoting $45 million to anti-white-nose efforts over a five-year period, with $17 million in the first year.

Six bat species are known to be affected by the disease, including the federally protected Indiana bat. Earlier this winter, the Center petitioned for the federal Endangered Species Act listing of two other white-nose-affected bat species: the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat.

Read more in The New York Times and our press release.

Uranium's Human Toll: Tragic Reminders of Mining's Risks

A memorial dedicated to cancer victims last week at an old uranium mill in Monticello, Utah, served as a heartbreaking symbol of the dangers of canyon country's new uranium boom. Today, nearly 600 of the mining town's 2,000 residents have cancer. And a half-hour south of there -- near Blanding, Utah -- uranium from the Arizona 1 mine just north of Grand Canyon National Park is still being milled.

Last fall, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Department of the Interior for letting the Arizona 1 mine reopen without updating decades-old environmental reviews. (The Interior Department shortcutting environmental reviews for energy corporations . . .  sound familiar?) And last week, while that litigation was pending, the Environmental Protection Agency cited that mine for operating without a radon permit -- which Interior could have caught, had it required updated reviews. The Center's Taylor McKinnon recently spoke to the risks of a new uranium boom and legislative efforts to blunt it on This American Land, an environmental news report now running on PBS stations nationally. 

Watch McKinnon on This American Land and learn more about our campaign against Grand Canyon uranium mining.

Highway Threatens Redwoods, Center Threatens Lawsuit -- Take Action

Yesterday, the California Department of Transportation announced its approval of a highway project that could forever ruin a world-renowned ancient redwood grove in California's Richardson Grove State Park -- so the Center for Biological Diversity and Environmental Protection Information Center vowed to take the agency to court. The project -- opposed by local residents, business owners, conservation and Native American groups, and economists -- would widen the now-narrow section of Highway 101 that meanders through the "redwood curtain" at the southern entrance to Humboldt County and protects small North Coast communities from blight and urban development. The grove also contains federally protected "critical habitat" for the imperiled marbled murrelet, a bird that depends on old-growth forests for its survival.

"The project as proposed by Caltrans threatens to destroy old-growth redwood root systems and harm critical habitat for the endangered marbled murrelet," said Peter Galvin, Center conservation director. "We're prepared to fight this and call on elected officials to pressure Caltrans to rescind its approval."

Please take action now to save Richardson Grove, and read more about the suit in the Times-Standard.

Celebrate Endangered Species Day -- It's More Important Than Ever

With so much environmental tragedy in the news lately -- from the catastrophic Gulf oil spill to the bat-obliterating white-nose epidemic to redwood-killing highway projects -- it might be hard to imagine celebrating anything this week, much less the fact that there are so many struggling species to save. But at the Center for Biological Diversity, we say desperate times call for a passionate response -- so it's fitting that tomorrow, May 21st is Endangered Species Day, a national day set aside for taking action on behalf of plants and wildlife that need our help, especially now. Kemp's ridley sea turtles, for example -- recently highlighted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a species to celebrate tomorrow as "showing good progress" -- have been washing up dead on southern beaches in record numbers after the oil spill, showing that it's more urgent than ever to protect that species as a whole. And it's still a good time to boost our morale by reflecting on Endangered Species Act success stories, from the bald eagle to the gray whale (while remembering that even "recovered" wildlife needs our vigilance to stay that way).

Get a head start on Endangered Species Day actions by visiting the Center's action-alert headquarters, where you can get involved in all our current online campaigns (and forward the alerts to family and friends). Tomorrow, get out and do something active for wildlife and plants while telling everyone you know to celebrate Endangered Species Day with you. And after that -- well, keep being active for species, all year long.

View all our action alerts, read more about Endangered Species Day in the Carroll County News, and see a list of Endangered Species Day events happening around the country.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Kemp's ridley sea turtle courtesy Flickr Commons/qnr; Deepwater Horizon explosion courtesy U.S. Coastguard; polar bear (c) Larry Master,; Alameda whipsnake (c) Gary A. Beeman; sperm whale courtesy NMFS; Stephen's kangaroo rat (c) Mark A. Chappell; Indiana bat courtesy USFWS; Taylor McKinnon courtesy This American Land; Richardson Grove (c) Scott Pargett; Kemp's ridley sea turtle courtesy Flickr Commons/qnr.

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