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Historic Clean Water Act Suit Seeks $19 Billion From BP

In the largest citizen-enforcement action ever taken under the Clean Water Act, last Friday the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against BP and Transocean for illegally spewing more than 100 million gallons of oil and other toxic pollutants into the Gulf of Mexico. Our suit seeks to ensure that BP pays the maximum possible penalty under the law for causing the largest oil spill in our nation's history -- fines of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil if the spill is found to have been the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct, which could be about $19 billion if the spill continues till August. The penalties would be paid to the U.S. treasury and available for Gulf restoration efforts.

"We filed this suit to ensure that BP is held accountable for every drop of oil and pollution it has released into the Gulf of Mexico," said Kierán Suckling, the Center's executive director. "We can't bring back dead sea turtles, pelicans, dolphins and whales, but we can make sure BP is penalized to the full extent of the law for causing the worst environmental disaster in American history."

Our lawsuit also seeks to compel BP to disclose the amount of oil now gushing into the Gulf each day, as well the identity and amount of all toxic pollutants mixed with the oil. Hazardous chemicals like benzene, arsenic and naphthalene are likely being spewed into the Gulf, along with the millions of barrels of oil. The Center's legal team for this lawsuit is comprised of Center Senior Attorney Marc Fink, experienced Clean Water Act litigator Charlie Tebbutt and Damon Kirin of Metairie, Louisiana.

Read more about the suit in The New York Times and Environment News Service. Then check out our Gulf Disaster website for breaking news and a full chronology of all Center actions responding to the oil spill.

Drilling Ban Cancelled, Center Vows Challenge

Siding with Big Oil in an oil-company lawsuit, this week a judge moved to prematurely lift the federal government's six-month moratorium on new deepwater oil drilling -- and the same day, the Center for Biological Diversity and others vowed to challenge that decision. The judge's ruling ignores the government's call -- after it was compelled by Center investigations, numerous major media stories and public outcry to enact the moratorium in light of the United States' largest-ever spill in the Gulf -- for more safety measures and further analyses, none of which have been completed, to better prevent more oil-spill catastrophes like the one in the Gulf. The judge's disappointing ruling also lets the Minerals Management Service off the hook for failing to uphold worker and environmental safety when approving offshore drilling projects.

The Center had intervened last week in the oil-industry lawsuit to cancel the moratorium -- so now we're heading back to court to make sure that this cancellation doesn't stand. "The judge's decision to lift the moratorium trades oil-industry profits for the safety of offshore workers, the long-term health of the Gulf Coast economy and the environment," said Center Oceans Program Director Miyoko Sakashita. "The ongoing BP catastrophe in the Gulf should be enough to justify putting an end to all new offshore drilling."

Read more in The New York Times and watch Center Executive Director Kierán Suckling speak on the issue on PBS' NewsHour. Then learn how you can act to end offshore oil drilling in your own city at a Hands Across the Sand event.

What Moratorium? -- BP Launches Massive New Drilling Project in Arctic

Just when it seems like BP and the Department of the Interior can't sink much lower comes news that BP's poised to begin a massive, risky, never-before-tried drilling project in the waters off Alaska. Today's New York Times broke the story in a major front-page exposé on the energy giant's plans to drill this fall in the Arctic's fragile waters. There was supposed to be a moratorium on new offshore drilling projects, but BP found a way around that: It heaped together a 31-acre pile of gravel in the Beaufort Sea, called it an island base for a drilling rig and declared it would be conducting onshore drilling.

The project, called Liberty, would include a dicey technique of drilling two miles beneath the sea and then up to eight miles horizontally -- all under enormous pressure in a pristine sea that would be devastated by an oil spill. The project already has its state and federal permits, but BP still has to apply for its final permit to drill, which is expected later this year.

"It makes no sense," Rebecca Noblin, the Center's Alaska director, told the Times. "BP pushes the envelope in the Gulf and ends up causing a moratorium. And now, in the Arctic they are forging ahead again with untested technology, and as a result they're the only ones left being allowed to drill there."

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is considering opening vast new areas of the Arctic, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil exploration. Now's the time to speak out against this troubling proposal; take action here.

Read the story in The New York Times.

Southwest Songbird Protected From Tree-gobbling Beetle

In response to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, this Tuesday the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared it would stop releasing invasive beetles that have been devouring habitat for the highly endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The small, sensitive songbird nests in willows, cottonwoods and tamarisk trees along desert streams in scattered pockets around the Southwest -- but much of that habitat is in danger of destruction by nonnative tamarisk-eating beetles imported by the Department of Agriculture to eliminate tamarisk trees, which are also nonnative. When the department first started its beetle-release program, it promised that no beetles would be released near flycatcher habitat, that beetles wouldn't become established within the flycatcher range, and that the beetles would spread "slowly." But all of those assurances have proven false, resulting in a Utah flycatcher nest destroyed and the beetles poised to invade flycatcher central along the lower Colorado River and central Arizona. So we sued in 2009, bringing about this week's decision by the feds to stop releasing beetles.

The Center has amassed a number of victories for the southwestern willow flycatcher since 1992, when we and allies successfully petitioned for its protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bird still faces a long list of threats, from dams to sprawl to livestock grazing, and the Center will keep championing its survival.

Read more in the Washington Examiner.

Feds Issue Permit to Kill Jaguars, Ocelots

Fifteen months following the Arizona Game and Fish Department's killing of the last known wild American jaguar -- which ignited criminal investigations and public controversy -- last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave the Department a permit to "take" (that is, kill, injure or otherwise harm) rare ocelots and jaguars. After the famous jaguar Macho B died in a 2009 bungled and illegal snaring effort, the Center for Biological Diversity sued Game and Fish to prevent future unpermitted jaguar captures. Despite this suit and an Interior Department investigation finding that the state agency lacked the necessary permits to capture jaguars, the agency has maintained that it doesn't need a permit to take more jaguars -- an untenable position that's now superseded by the "take" permit, but not to the benefit of these magnificent felines or their smaller ocelot cousins.

The new permit authorizes the intentional capture of jaguars and ocelots to equip them with a radio collar, as well as the unintentional take of both species in the course of efforts to capture other animals. And while the permit does require Arizona Game and Fish to submit harm-minimizing plans to recovery teams for both species, the jaguar doesn't yet have a recovery team, so plans for the animal's take can currently be approved by the Jaguar Conservation Team: an interagency group chaired by Arizona Game and Fish itself. As a result of a Center lawsuit, the jaguar will soon have a recovery team -- but until then, letting Game and Fish oversee the review of its own plans is like letting the fox guard the henhouse.

Read more in the Phoenix New Times and watch the Center's Randy Serraglio discuss jaguar protection on KOLD-TV.

Suit Filed to Save Ancient Redwoods From Highway

Defending the beauty and biodiversity of California's fabled "redwood curtain," the Center for Biological Diversity and allies sued the California Department of Transportation last week for approving a project to widen the highway going through Humboldt County's Richardson Grove State Park, an ancient-redwood haven. In approving the project -- which would cut through and pave over the life-giving roots of nearly 100 ancient redwood trees -- Caltrans violated the state's premier environmental protection law, the California Environmental Quality Act. The environmental impact report for the project fails to acknowledge the full extent of the project's impacts, including the effects of damaging the network of roots holding Richardson Grove together, stockpiling lead-contaminated soil in an area draining to the designated "wild and scenic" South Fork Eel River, and opening the road to larger trucks.

Opposition to the highway project has mounted exponentially since it was proposed in 2007 -- including more than 25,000 comments sent in by Center supporters and other concerned citizens. Center Conservation Director Peter Galvin says, "The state's failure to follow the law puts these old-growth trees and the endangered species that depend on them at unacceptable risk -- all for the sake of letting a few more big trucks use this stretch of highway."

Read more in the Times-Standard.

Lead Poisoning Could Kill Celebrated Condor Chick

The first endangered California condor chick to hatch inside a national park in more than a century has been severely lead poisoned, likely from eating carrion contaminated with lead-bullet fragments. The condor chick and its male parent had to be taken from their nest at Pinnacles National Monument for intensive-care treatment this month due to toxic levels of lead in their blood. Researchers are also trapping the female parent to determine her lead levels. If the extremely high amounts of lead in the chick's system are any indication, the little bird has probably been severely poisoned for more than half its life, and if it survives, it could suffer lasting neurological damage as a result.

There are currently only 91 released California condors in the wild in the bird's namesake state. A Center lawsuit led to legislation in 2008 banning the use of lead ammunition for big-game and nongame hunting within the 15 counties comprising the condor's California range. But this chick-poisoning incident -- along with the lead-caused deaths of three condors in Arizona earlier this year and increasing research on lead effects on other wildlife -- highlights the need for immediate regulations ending all use of lead ammunition in the country. As long as lead persists in the environment, the future of the condor (and the health of other species, including people) remains in jeopardy.

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If Rachel Maddow Were President -- Watch Video of Fake Oval Office Gulf Speech

After hearing President Barack Obama's Oval Office speech about the Gulf disaster last week, TV/radio host and political commentator Rachel Maddow couldn't stop thinking of what she wished he'd said. So the next day, she made her own speech.

Her first declaration? "I, as fake president, stand on the side of the American people and say to the industry, 'From this day forward, if you cannot handle the risk, you no longer will take chances with our fate to reap your rewards.' " She then went on to promise daily presidential updates on spill cleanup and containment efforts, command all BP personnel to attend "booming and skimming academies" and compel the passage of a climate bill this year that doubles or triples emissions-reduction targets and gets us off oil for good. "The oil age, America, is over," she concluded. "If you are with me, let your senator know it."

All we have to say is: Bravo.

Watch Maddow's speech for yourself.

Lucky for Life: Center Announces Winners of Lifetime Condom Supply

Five lucky winners can now get lucky for the rest of their lives without worrying about overpopulating an already-crowded planet. The five were chosen at random this week to receive a lifetime supply of Endangered Species Condoms -- part of the Center for Biological Diversity's campaign to raise awareness about unsustainable human population growth and its impacts on endangered plants and animals.

Since February, about 350,000 condoms have been given out at events in all 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The condoms come in six beautifully designed packages with original artwork featuring the polar bear, jaguar, Puerto Rico rock frog and other endangered species.

The Center's main mission is stopping the planetary extinction crisis from wiping out more rare plants and animals -- and curbing explosive population growth hits the problem at its roots. We can reduce our population to an ecologically sustainable level through the empowerment of women, education for all and universal access to birth control.

It's not too late for you or your friends to win your own lifetime supply of Endangered Species Condoms -- we'll choose five more winners at the end of the year, so sign up now. Then learn more about the Center's Endangered Species Condoms Project and our Overpopulation Campaign.

Fugitive Lemurs Apprehended at School Library

This month, a daring pair of ringtailed lemurs gave John Dillinger a run for his money after busting out of custody and enjoying a 36-hour adventure through the quiet neighborhoods of Durham, N.C. Half-brother lemurs Ivy and Berisades escaped from Natural Habitat Enclosure #4 at the city's Duke Lemur Center by vaulting the electric fence. They were soon spotted all over the city rooting through gardens, skimming backyards, trotting down roads and finally lounging in front of a school. When they were eventually cornered by the long arm of the Lemur Center, the two primates were relaxing in the school library and evoking oohs and aahs from some schoolgirls. Both lemurs had recently hit the age at which they'd be leaving their family group and establishing their own territories -- hence their apparently irresistible urge to make a getaway. Ivy and Berisades were captured and did a peaceful "perp walk" back to the pen.

"They are so grounded," said Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder. And it's true: Until their caretakers can figure out how they escaped, the lemurs will be restricted to caged enclosure (without TV and dessert privileges for at least a month).

Get more from Duke University.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: oiled brown pelican by Jordan Macha, Louisiana Sierra Club; Deepwater Horizon rig courtesy U.S. Coast Guard; bowhead whale courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Ansgar Walk; southwestern willow flycatcher courtesy USGS; jaguar courtesy Flickr/tangywolf; Richardson Grove (c) Scott Pargett; California condor chick courtesy USFWS; Rachel Maddow courtesy MSNBC; Puerto Rico rock frog (c) Center for Biological Diversity; ringtailed lemurs courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Chris Gin.

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