Major Victory -- Shell Oil's Arctic Drilling Stopped
In a huge victory for the Arctic's endangered species, today Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and President Barack Obama announced that Shell Oil company won't be allowed to drill for oil in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas this year. Shell was scheduled to begin drilling in just 34 days. The win comes in response to intense protests and court challenges by the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies, and the incredible outpouring of emails from our supporters to Obama calling to stop the drilling. Thank you for your unflagging commitment to protect the Arctic.
"We applaud the Secretary's decision and hope that he permanently ends all new offshore oil drilling in Alaska" said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Drilling for oil in icy Arctic waters is like playing Russian roulette. There is no way to clean up a spill there, and endangered species such as polar bears, whales, walruses, and seals are already under too much stress."
Of note, on Tuesday, just days before this major announcement to stop Shell's drilling, Center staff and polar bear mascot Frostpaw greeted President Barack Obama on his visit to San Francisco with an urgent plea to heed the clear risks: Don't let Shell drill in the Arctic this summer. Apparently, the president listened.
Check out our statement on the suspension of Shell's drilling and our call for stronger regulatory measures, and read more about Obama's San Francisco visit in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Six-month "Pause"? Center Calls for Permanent Drilling Ban
This morning, President Obama also announced that he's instituting a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling to review what happened with the BP explosion and spill, to ensure another disaster doesn't happen. It's an important first step, and we support the effort. But the President is allowing shallow-water drilling activities -- in less than 500 feet of water -- to continue. A spill in shallow water can be just as dangerous as deepwater drilling, and the Minerals Management Service's own data, collected over a 15-year period, demonstrates that "well control performance for deepwater drilling was significantly better than for shallow water operations." If the odds of a drilling spill happening at Deepwater Horizon are lower than for the drilling the President is still allowing, we have a lot more work to do.
Further, the president's announcement comes after a month of half-steps and broken promises by the Interior Department, which pledged a "moratorium" on oil drilling that turned out to be largely fictional as the administration continued to hand out environmental review-exempted drilling permits like those given to BP before the spill. As Center Senior Counsel Brendan Cummings said, "Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Obama administration should not pretend that a six-month review of drilling procedures will change anything. Expanding offshore drilling to all new areas needs to be permanently taken off the table."
We need to stop all new offshore oil drilling, not just delay it. Please take two minutes right now and call the White House to say that a six-month pause on offshore oil drilling isn't enough: We need to permanently ban new offshore drilling. Here's the number: 202-456-1111.
Read more in the E & E News.
Lawsuit Challenges 49 Oil Projects in Gulf
Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Minerals Management Service to strike down the agency's exemption of 49 Gulf of Mexico offshore drilling projects from all environmental review. Just like BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling plan, all 49 plans in the suit state that no environmental review is necessary because there's essentially no chance of a large oil spill -- and if a spill were to occur, it would be quickly cleaned up with no lasting damage. The plans involve drilling off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which provide habitat for many imperiled species, including Kemp's ridley and leatherback sea turtles, sperm whales, piping plovers, and bluefin tuna. And they're the very same areas now being devastated by the BP spill.
"Secretary Salazar continues to exercise extremely poor judgment in approving these plans without meaningful environmental review," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. "He seems to have learned nothing from the oil pouring out into the Gulf of Mexico. Since Salazar is unwilling to shut down the use of environmental waivers that even the president has denounced, we are asking the courts to do so." The Center has also filed suit challenging the policy underlying the decisions to exempt Gulf drilling from environmental review, and we've started a legal action to require compliance with marine mammal and endangered species protection laws that have also been ignored in the Gulf.
Get more from the Associated Press and check out our Gulf Disaster Web site for the latest breaking news on what the Center's doing in the Gulf.
Protection Sought for Endangered Bluefin Tuna
With the Gulf spill spewing millions of gallons of oil into key habitat for the Atlantic bluefin tuna, it's more urgent than ever to protect the fish -- so this week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific petition to place it on the endangered species list. Overfishing has already erased more than 80 percent of the fish's North Atlantic population, and the Gulf disaster is threatening to devastate the western Atlantic population just as it swims to the spill area to spawn. The oil may coat eggs and larvae floating in the sheen, harm adult tuna that breathe oil into their gills, and move up the food chain from algae to tuna in the next few months. BP's heavy use of dispersants known to be deadly to fish only make the outlook worse for the bluefin -- one of the fastest, largest, and most majestic fish in the sea.
"Bluefin tuna encounter thousands of deadly hooks while migrating across the Atlantic, and now an oil spill will welcome home the survivors," said Catherine Kilduff, petition author and Center Oceans Program attorney. "Oil rigs are scattered throughout essential breeding habitat for bluefin tuna, and protections could force reforms of the Interior Department's lax environmental oversight of the oil industry by limiting drilling to avoid adverse effects on fish and their habitat."
Read more in the Guardian and learn about the bluefin on our brand-new Atlantic bluefin tuna Web page, and check out a map of its essential habitat and the Gulf oil spill.
Center Sues to Safeguard Whale Habitat
To save one of the most critically endangered marine mammals on the planet, this Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed suit to earn expanded habitat protections for the great North Atlantic right whale. In 2009, we petitioned to expand the whale's federally protected "critical habitat" to include areas key to the creature's survival -- calving grounds, critical feeding habitat, and the migratory route between calving and feeding grounds. But despite a legal requirement to take action on our petition within 90 days, the National Marine Fisheries Service hasn't responded to it at all. North Atlantic right whales, threatened by commercial fishing, ship strikes, habitat degradation, ocean noise, global warming, ocean acidification, and pollution, now number just 350 individuals.
"Critical habitat protections have a proven track record of helping endangered species to survive," said Andrea Treece, a senior attorney with the Center. "The North Atlantic right whale is on the edge of extinction, and further delay of habitat protection may seal the species' fate."
Check out our press release and learn more about the North Atlantic right whale.
Mexican Gray Wolf Program to be Revamped, Service says
This month, a federal assessment of Mexican gray wolves' plight gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a needed wake-up call on the animal's endangerment -- and as the Center and our allies ramped up legal pressure and publicity, the Service pledged to act quickly to convene a recovery team that would write a new recovery plan for the Mexican wolf. We've been hearing that promise since the mid-1990s, so we'll be eager to see it actually occur. But if so, an updated recovery plan will likely include recommended changes, like eliminating a rule requiring the capture of wolves who establish home territories outside the present wolf recovery area in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The new recovery plan should also establish -- for the first time --a formal goal, indicating recovery, for the number of wild "lobos" and their distribution in several populations and not just the current recovery area. Currently, the wild population is at a shockingly low 42 individuals. That's a 20-percent decline from 2008, and the lowest count since 2002.
Michael Robinson, carnivore advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, called the new assessment "a clarion call to action before it's too late for the Mexican wolf, and that moment is approaching perilously fast." The Center has been working to save Mexican wolves since 1990, when our lawsuit initiated the wolf's return into part of its historic Southwest range.
Read about our latest push to save wolves in the Silver City Sun-News and learn more on the recovery-plan revamping in the Albuquerque Journal.
Roadless-area Destruction "Timeout" Expires
Unfortunately for inventoried roadless areas on national forests across the country, tomorrow the time is up on the "timeout" called by the feds on roadless-area logging and road building. So to help save these remaining pristine sites from human destruction, last week the Center for Biological Diversity called on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to extend the timeout policy -- and necessarily strengthen it. Because actually, while the purpose of the "timeout" was to give roadless areas a break while policymakers forged permanent protection for them, not only has no permanent protection been forged -- roadless areas didn't get much of a break. Even under last year's directive, Vilsack allowed harmful projects to move forward within roadless areas, including old-growth logging on Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the construction of a ski-resort road, and the development of a mine.
In a letter to Secretary Vilsack, the Center points to the recent destruction of New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest -- site of six proposed roadless-area logging projects in the past five years -- as an example of a forest desperate for permanent and binding protection. "Just this year, more roadless-area clearcutting was proposed on the White Mountain National Forest," said the Center's Mollie Matteson. "The only way to stop the Forest Service from committing such atrocities is for the Obama administration to enact a strong, nationally consistent roadless policy immediately."
Check out our press release and learn more about our campaign for roadless area conservation.
Proposed Bill Targets Deadly Herbicide
The campaign to ban the deadly chemical atrazine has gained significant momentum, with Congressional Representative Keith Ellison, D-Minn., introducing legislation last month to prohibit the use, production, sale, importation, or export of any pesticide containing atrazine, the most commonly used herbicide in the United States. A widespread contaminant of ground, surface, and drinking water, atrazine is so dangerous to humans and wildlife that it's already been banned by the European Union. Last week, a U.S. Geological Survey study concluded that atrazine at EPA-approved levels adversely affects the reproduction of fish, while studies at the University of California have demonstrated that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with frog reproduction by chemically castrating and feminizing male frogs. Atrazine has also been linked to increased prostate cancer, decreased sperm count, and high risk of breast cancer in humans.
Recent Center for Biological Diversity legal victories have restricted atrazine use in habitats for the delta smelt and the California red-legged frog -- and just last week, we won an injunction requiring the evaluation of 75 pesticides in the Bay Area. Now, it's time to eliminate atrazine and other toxic contaminants from all habitats for good.
Learn more about the Center's campaigns against pesticides in the Bay Area and nationwide.
RARE Photographer Bears Witness to Extinction Crisis
Many species now vanished from the wild were saved from annihilation only through capture and containment in zoos. Renowned National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has his own method of preserving endangered species: on film -- and now in the pages of his stunning new wildlife-photography book RARE: Portraits of America's Endangered Species. But far from offering a last monument to some of the most endangered U.S. animals and plants before they succumb to extinction, Sartore hopes his book will be a wake-up call to all who see it to do everything they can to prevent the extinction of its subjects, from the tiny Salt Creek tiger beetle to the great grizzly bear to the noble northern goshawk.
The Center for Biological Diversity was privileged to feature Sartore's poignant photographs in our 20th-anniversary publication -- whose cover features a portrait of a California tiger salamander's charming hind end -- and we're proud to announce the publication of his latest book.
Meet some of Sartore's RARE models, including in a behind-the-scenes (and rather amusing) video of the photographer at work, at the Joel Sartore Photography Web site. Then check out the Center's special-edition 20th anniversary publication featuring his work.
Photo credits: polar bear sunset (c) Brendan Cummings; Frostpaw courtesy Center for Biological Diversity; boat near oil slick by Daniel Beltra, Greenpeace; oil platform near spill, Sean Gardner, Greenpeace; bluefin tuna courtesy NOAA; North Atlantic right whale courtesy NOAA; Mexican gray wolf by Jim Clark, USFWS; White Mountains courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Carlie DeTar; California red-legged frog (c) Colin Brown; northern goshawk (c) Joel Sartore.
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