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Imminent Climate Bill Will Gamble With Our Species and Future: Take Action Now

Tomorrow, Congress is set to vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a new climate bill that, tragically, doesn't have the teeth to save us from climate change. First, the bill's greenhouse gas reductions targets are insufficient to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 350 ppm, the goal scientists say we need to reach to avoid runaway global warming. Its emissions-lowering targets will give us more than a 50/50 chance of hitting the catastrophic tipping point at which climate change will spiral out of control, with ripple effects like the extinction of polar bears and numerous other species, loss of crop yields, and dangerous water scarcity for billions of people.

Second, the bill would senselessly discard some  of our best weapons for fighting climate change under the Clean Air Act, eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to control emissions from sources like power plants, oil refineries, and industrial plants; letting wealthy industries continue spewing too much
CO2 into the air; and allowing the construction of numerous coal-fired power plants without any additional emissions-reductions targets for more than a decade into the future.

Take action immediately by telling Congress to strengthen the American Clean Energy and Security Act, learn about the lobbying frenzy surrounding it in the New York Times, and read our statement about the bill.

Devastating Dam Construction Ordered Halted in Panama

In a major victory for persecuted native people and imperiled native species in western Panama, last Friday the country's Ngöbe Indians won an order for the suspension of all work on a hydroelectric dam that threatens their homeland -- as well as La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. The Chan-75 Dam, a project of the Panamanian government and the U.S.-based AES Corporation, is being built on the Changuinola River just downriver from the reserve, and scientists believe it will likely have grim effects on fish that support the reserve's wildlife, including endangered species like the ocelot and harpy eagle. The dam would also flood four Ngöbe villages housing about 1,000 people and devastate at least another 4,000 Ngöbe living in neighboring villages by destroying transportation routes, flooding agricultural plots, blocking farmland access, and reducing or eliminating fish that are key to the Ngöbe diet. Thankfully, after a petition from the Ngöbe, last week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights told Panama to stop dam construction -- but not before many homes were bulldozed.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been actively opposing not one but four dams threatening La Amistad. In 2007, the World Heritage Committee requested that Panama develop and implement measures to counter the dams' impact.

Get more from the Environment News Service.

Feds Decide Marbled Murrelets Must Keep Protections

Rebuffing an anti-science decision by the Bush administration, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report finding that continued protection is needed in Washington, Oregon, and California for the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird that nests in Northwest old-growth forests -- what remains of them, at least. Replacing a 2004 report trying to justify removing protections from murrelets in those three states, the new report found that they're indeed distinct from populations in Canada and Alaska. Unfortunately, the report also found a 26-percent decline in the tristate murrelet population since 2002, and a shocking 75-percent decline in the California population since 2003. Concluding that the bird's downward spiral has been mostly caused by the extensive removal of old-growth coastal trees, the report provides yet more proof that ancient Northwest forests must be protected -- just as the Obama administration is reconsidering a Bush-era plan to increase logging of murrelet habitat in western Oregon.

Despite the bird's danger of extinction, its protections have been under fire from multiple lawsuits filed by the murrelet habitat-hungry timber industry -- which, thanks in part to Center intervention, have all been unsuccessful.

Read more in the Oregonian.

Beetle Program That Hurts Southwest Songbird to Be Rethought

Last week, a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to re-examine a tamarisk leaf-eating beetle program that's been hurting the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, a small, sentinel-like songbird of southwestern streamside forests. Despite promises to the Fish and Wildlife Service that the beetles wouldn't be released within 200 miles of flycatcher habitat or within 300 miles of breeding areas -- and that beetles would annually spread no more than "several tens of meters"-- the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service introduced the insects smack into the middle of flycatcher nesting areas in southern Utah in 2006. The beetles immediately began destroying flycatchers' nesting trees, causing the failure of at least one nest last year. By last fall, the beetles had spread more than 25 miles, from Utah into Arizona. They're now poised to invade the lower Colorado River and central Arizona, the heart of flycatcher nesting turf. We hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will keep the poor flycatcher from further harm.

Check out our press release and learn more about the southwestern willow flycatcher.

Studies Show Polar Bears and Walruses in Dire Straits

In response to a court order resulting from a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released long-overdue reports on the status of Alaska's polar bears and Pacific walruses -- and the news isn't good. Issued under the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the reports show that Alaska's polar bears and Pacific walruses are dying from human causes at rates higher than the calculated sustainable rates; meanwhile, the sea-ice habitat of both species is melting away due to global warming. "These reports publicly confirm what scientists have known for several years," said Center Oceans Program Director Brendan Cummings. "Polar bear and walrus populations in Alaska are in trouble. And even if the population numbers are not precise, we know that without their sea-ice habitat they are likely doomed."

Thanks to a Center petition and lawsuits, the polar bear is now recognized as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act -- but thanks to the Bush administration's tricks (and the Obama administration's refusal to overturn them), the bear is still the subject of a rule leaving it defenseless against its two greatest threats, global warming and oil and gas development. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently under court order to respond to the Center's petition to protect the Pacific walrus.

Get more from Reuters, take action for the polar bear, and watch the Center's disturbing TV ads showing the shocking effects of global warming on the bear's Arctic habitat.

Fishery Sea Turtle Killings Could Triple Under New Proposal

Just two months after closing the Gulf of Mexico's bottom longline fishery due to its devastating impact on sea turtles, this week the National Marine Fisheries Service took a humongous step backward for sea turtles in Hawaii, proposing a plan to let the state's longline swordfish fishery injure and kill nearly three times as many imperiled turtles as is now permitted. Swordfish longliners trail up to 60 miles of fishing line bedecked with as many as 1,000 baited hooks, which can cause serious wounds, physiological stress, and drowning when they snag sea turtles. Hawaii's longline fishery regularly captures federally protected loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles, both of which are threatened with extinction. But the Fisheries Service's new proposal would remove all limits on how much fishing the fishery can do, as well as expanding the allowable number of loggerhead sea turtle captures from 17 per year -- bad enough -- to 46.

"The Fisheries Service has admitted that loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific face a significant risk of extinction unless we reduce the number of turtles killed by commercial fisheries," said Center attorney Andrea Treece. We've worked hard to protect both species, and you can bet we won't stand aside while the agency absurdly allows an increase in killings. Stay tuned for our call to action.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Too Many People, Too Much Plastic: Vast Ocean Trash Vortex

June is National Oceans Month, and one issue is particularly emblematic of the burgeoning human population's impact on our biggest salty water bodies: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Technically known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, it's an area devoid of ocean currents where floating objects tend to collect. But "patch" is a misnomer. More than 7 million tons of plastic now clog an area roughly twice the size of Texas. There's six times as much plastic in the gyre as there is plankton, which form the base of the ocean's food chain. And plastic never biodegrades; it only breaks into ever-smaller particles called "nurdles," which often resemble plankton and are mistakenly eaten by bigger sea creatures. Not only do nurdles cause malnutrition, they also tend to concentrate persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and DDT . . . with toxic effects on unsuspecting marine diners.

While regulating global plastic use and disposal would be a good start, there's one simple equation that may point to a solution: too many humans equals too much plastic. We must stop population growth before it nurdles the ocean's wildlife to death.

Check out this Great Pacific Garbage Patch video.

The True Measure of an Eco Baron

Many environmental nonprofits are struggling financially these days, so it's good to know that there are still well-off folks out there who're investing in conservation -- like the 100 wealthiest eco-friendly tycoons featured on the Times of London's 2009 Green Rich List. But in an article written just after the list's release, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Humes makes a good point: "Sometimes it's not just about throwing money at a problem. It's also about throwing yourself at the problem."

Humes, the author of Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet, should know; he devotes a quarter of the book to the Center for Biological Diversity, whose "unprecedented success rate has transformed the American landscape, safeguarding hundreds of species from extinction and preserving millions of acres of wilderness." Writes Humes, "It was the Center for Biological Diversity that finally forced the administration of George W. Bush to concede, after six years of resolute denial, that there really is such a thing as global warming and that it is killing (among other species) the polar bear."

Read Humes' Green Rich List piece in the Huffington Post, check out his Eco Barons blog, and buy his latest book for yourself (10 percent goes to the Center).

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: polar bear by Dave Olsen, USFWS; polar bears by Pete Spruance; harpy eagle courtesy Wikimedia Commons/ under the Gnu free documentation license; marbled murrelet by Rich MacIntosh, USGS; southwestern willow flycatcher (c) Rick and Nora Bowers; Pacific walrus by Bill Hickey, USFWS; loggerhead sea turtle hatchling courtesy USFWS; marine debris on Hawaiian coast courtesy NOAA; Eco Barons cover courtesy HarperCollins Publishers.

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