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Obama Failing To Ensure Polar Bear Survival

December 24, 2010

Environmental groups accused the Obama administration on Thursday of failing to ensure the survival of polar bears, after the administration declined to list the Arctic animals as endangered.

“The Obama administration delivered a lump of coal to the polar bear for Christmas,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement.

The administration has “sacrificed sound science for political expediency,” the AFP news agency quoted her as saying.

The Center for Biological Diversity has led legal efforts to protect the polar bear.

Responding to a legal suit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed on Wednesday that climate change presents “serious threats” to the polar bears by melting their Arctic habitat.

However, that threat is “in the foreseeable future”, and the polar bears are not “in danger of extinction,” the service said.

Listing the polar bears as endangered would likely lead to federal protection of areas rich in oil and gas.

Other environmental groups joined the Center for Biological Diversity in questioning the administration’s decision.

“I guess if a wrecking ball is barreling down on your house, you are just ‘threatened’,” said Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defense Council in an interview with the AFP news agency.

The Obama administration’s decision left in place a 2008 ruling issued under former president George W. Bush.

President Obama has vowed to fight climate change more aggressively, and his administration fell under heavy criticism by the oil industry on Thursday after announcing that it would regulate greenhouse gas emissions by power plants.

Last month, the Fish and Wildlife Service deemed 187,000 square miles Alaska’s northern shore as a bear habitat, meaning any initiative that could affect the bears’ way of life is required to undergo a rigorous review.

The northern polar cap has shrunk between 15 and 20 percent over the last 30 years, the AFP reported.  However, a recent study published in the journal Nature said the melting could be reversed.

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