Polar Bear Listed as “Threatened” Species

8 08 2008

The United States Department of Interior listed the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act. While such a listing would typically create review requirements only for projects in Alaska, in this case the listing was made to address the impacts of global warming. At least theoretically, any “major federal action” in the US needed to approve a new source of greenhouse gas emissions would have to conduct an ESA review to determine the impact on polar bears prior to receiving approval. To protect against this result, the Secretary of DOI announced:

 

To make sure that the Endangered Species Act is not misused to regulate global climate change, I will take the following specific actions:

 

First, to provide clarity and certainty to those regulated under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service will propose what is known as a 4(d) rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards imposed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the Endangered Species Act with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.

 

Second, Director Hall will issue guidance to Fish and Wildlife Service staff that the best scientific data available today cannot make a causal connection between harm to listed species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, or resource development project, or government action.

 

Third, the Department will issue a Solicitor’s Opinion further clarifying these points.

Fourth, the ESA regulatory language needs to be clarified. We will propose common sense modifications to the existing regulation to provide greater certainty that this listing will not set backdoor climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability.

 

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