Friday, May 15, 2009

Polar Bears Lose Court Battle As They Lose Habitat

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the administration will retain the Bush administration's controversial rule on polar bear protections that I have written about here earlier. The rule had only been finalized in December. Six months earlier, the polar bear was declared a threatened species due to the melting of its sea-ice habitat.

A number of Democratic lawmakers, environmentalists and scientists argued to revert the Bush rule which limits the use of the Endangered Species Act to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.

To add to the strangeness of the decision, Salazar said that "To see the polar bear's habitat melting and an iconic species threatened is an environmental tragedy of the modern age. This administration is fully committed to the protection and recovery of the polar bear."

The Interior Department will need to defend the rule in court and there is sure to be opposition from environmental groups that see this as more than just polar bear protection, but as a way to force the government to consider the effects of greenhouse gases and to better regulate emissions.

Environmental groups have also sued to change the polar bear's status from "threatened" to "endangered."

Part of the administration's reluctance to revert the rule seems to be that they are opposed to using the Endangered Species Act as a way to enact regulations concerning climate change which they see as a different issue.

Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska and groups such as the American Petroleum Institute has defended the Bush rule. Additionally, the state of Alaska and the Pacific Legal Foundation filed lawsuits to block protection of the bear and there are also suits pending against the Interior Department from groups that want hunters to be able to bring back polar bear trophies from Canada.

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