Bush rec­og­nizes threat to po­lar bears by global warm­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Au­drey Hud­son

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion on May 14 de­clared global warm­ing a threat to po­lar bears but took steps to en­sure that the long-awaited de­ci­sion would not threaten busi­nesses and oil drilling that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists blame for the species’ de­cline.

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Dirk Kempthorne said the de­ple­tion of sea ice — the bears’ habi­tat — puts the an­i­mal at risk of be­com­ing en­dan­gered in the “fore­see­able fu­ture,” the stan­dard for such des­ig­na­tions un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act. This is the first des­ig­na­tion based on global warm­ing as­sump­tions, though the an­i­mals’ num­bers are not de­clin­ing.

“While the le­gal stan­dards un­der the ESA com­pel me to list the po­lar bear as threat­ened, I want to make clear that this list­ing will not stop global cli­mate change or pre­vent any sea ice from melt­ing,” Mr. Kempthorne said.

“Any real so­lu­tion re­quires ac­tion by all ma­jor economies for it to be ef­fec­tive. That is why I am tak­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive and reg­u­la­tory ac­tion to make cer­tain the ESA isn’t abused to make global warm­ing poli­cies,” Mr. Kempthorne said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion will in­tro­duce a rule to limit un­in­tended harm to the econ­omy by the list­ing, such as caps on green­house gas emis­sions in the lower 48 states that could limit build­ing high­ways and power plants, or lim­i­ta­tions on oil and gas drilling.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill met the an- nounce­ment with skep­ti­cal praise.

“This de­ci­sion is a wa­ter­shed event be­cause it has forced the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to ac­knowl­edge global warm­ing’s bru­tal im­pacts,” said Kassie Siegel, cli­mate pro­gram di­rec­tor for the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, which led the list­ing ef­fort.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempts to re­duce pro­tec­tion to the po­lar bear from green­house-gas emis­sions are il­le­gal and won’t hold up in court,” Miss Siegel said.

Rep. Don Young, Alaska Repub­li­can and rank­ing mem­ber of the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee, called the de­ci­sion “an as­sault on sound science and com­mon sense” but praised ef­forts to pro­tect re­source de­vel­op­ment.

Sen. Joe Lieber­man, Con­necti­cut in­de­pen­dent, said the de­ci­sion “rec­og­nizes the science show­ing the grave threats global warm­ing poses to the habi­tat of the po­lar bear.”

Sen. James M. In­hofe, Oklahoma Repub­li­can and rank­ing mem­ber of the Se­nate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, said he was dis­ap­pointed that “Sec­re­tary Kempthorne failed to stand up to lib­eral spe­cial-in­ter­est groups who ad­vo­cated this list­ing” and that the fi­nal de­ci­sion was “based more on pol­i­tics than science.”

“Lost in the de­bate is the fact that po­lar bear num­bers have dra­mat­i­cally in­creased over the past 40 years — a fact even lib­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists are forced to con­cede,” Mr. In­hofe said.

The bears are pro­tected un­der the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice es­ti­mates there are be­tween 20,000 and 25,000 bears, with more than a dozen pop­u­la­tion species.

Betsy Loy­less, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Audubon So­ci­ety, said the po­lar bears’ list­ing “is not go­ing to save it if we con­tinue to melt and drill its habi­tat.”

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce en­dorsed the de­ci­sion say­ing it rec- og­nizes the En­dan­gered Species Act was never meant to ad­dress cli­mate change.

“We must safe­guard our en­vi­ron­ment while also pro­tect­ing our econ­omy,” said William L. Ko­vacs, the cham­ber’s vice pres­i­dent of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs. “To­day’s de­ci­sion will pro­tect the po­lar bear while also pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can jobs and busi­nesses.”

A po­lar bear tra­verses the ice in the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge. Their species is not in de­cline, but Mr. Kempthorne warns that the an­i­mal could be­come en­dan­gered in the “fore­see­able fu­ture” from habi­tat loss. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice es­ti­mates the po­lar bear pop­u­la­tion at 20,000 to 25,000.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Warm­ing up to the idea: In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Dirk Kempthorne says the so­lu­tion to the po­lar bear’s en­dan­ger­ment is “ac­tion by all ma­jor economies.”

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