May 8, 2009

Government Must Make Decision About Polar Bears

A decision involving the iconic polar bear threatened by extinction could simultaneously help cut back on pollution causing global warming, but many voice concerns about the increase of government regulation.

According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration has a weekend deadline to make a decision as to whether it should allow government agencies to cite the federal Endangered Species Act to institute limits on greenhouse gases from power plants, factories and automobiles even if the pollution is happening thousands of miles from polar bear habitat, in order to insure protection for the bear.

The species law that provides protection for plants, animals and fish threatened by extinction became mixed with the need to cut pollution linked to global warming over a year ago. The Interior Department declared the polar bear a threatened species, noting the loss of Arctic sea ice as a result of global warming.

Many became concerned that the bear being put under the federal species law might in turn force regulation of carbon dioxide, which is the primary greenhouse has from burning fossil fuels. In order to avoid such an action, the Bush administration issued a special rule that nothing outside of the bear's Arctic habitat could be considered as endangering its survival.

This limitation was applauded by business groups, but prompted lawsuits from environmentalists, which required Congress to step in.

In March, federal lawmakers gave Interior Secretary Ken Salazar the authority to retract the Bush administration's special rule in order to avoid complicated and time-consuming regulatory procedures. The deadline for her rescindment is Saturday, marking 60 days since Congress acted.

With such a considerable amount of special interest vested in this issue, lobbying has been intense. Salazar is reportedly weighing the issue, giving no clues as to whether he plans to retract the Bush rule.

Environmentalists were critical last week when Salazar failed to address the polar bear rule while he was rescinding another Bush regulation related to endangered species, which Congress had also authorized to be nullified.

After last week's action, Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said, "From our perspective the job is half done" without a reversal of the polar bear rule.

Jane Kochersperger, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, which delivered 80,000 petitions to the Interior Department, claims that the special rule "significantly undercuts protections for the polar bear by omitting global warming pollution as a factor in the polar bear's risk of extinction."

Environmentalists also passed out a letter to Salazar, signed by 49 law professors, compelling him to retract the Bush rule on the basis that the restrictions are so broad, making it illegal under the Endangered Species Act.

On Thursday, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, asked Salazar to maintain the Bush rule.

Business groups that the Endangered Species Act is being used to regulate greenhouse gases, particularly industrial and power plant emissions.

Hastings argues that along with the recent ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency that carbon dioxide poses a health hazard, "withdrawing this rule would give the federal government vast new climate change power to regulate any federal or federally permitted activity in our country that emits greenhouse gases"¦this reaches far beyond the scope of polar bears in the Arctic and could put jobs and economic activity across the entire nation at risk."