Interior Dept. announces further delay of months in decision on listing of polar bear as threatened

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The Department of the Interior has told a federal court that it needs until June 30 to complete its Endangered Species Act listing decision on the polar bear, which is already more than three months overdue. What will it take to get the administration to abide by federal legal deadlines and court rulings, and act on scientific evidence about the harmful impacts of climate change?

See our April 21 post—Bush climate speech aligns with disinformation campaign on stonewalling courts and environmental law.

The BNA Daily Environment Report (by subscription) reported on April 23 that the Department of the Interior has told a told a federal court that it needs until June 30 to complete its listing decision on the polar bear, which is already more than three months overdue beyond the statutory deadline.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit March 10 (Center for Biological Diversity v. Kempthorne) seeking an immediate decision in light of the federal government’s failure to meet a January 7 statutory deadline for final listing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had proposed to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act but has delayed issuing a final decision. A listing of the polar bear was called for under the Act because climate science leads to the conclusion that global warming poses a mortal threat to the polar bear’s sea ice habitat, and because of the absence of a regulatory regime to effectively address the problem.

BNA notes that there has been discussion about whether listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act could trigger new regulatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions, and reports that Interior officials have downplayed such a scenario. However, see the recent Senate testimony by Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity on what actions are required of federal agencies when a species is listed. 

From a Center for Biological Diversity press release April 17:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responding to a court motion filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, admitted in court papers it filed today that it is violating the law by delaying protection to polar bears and asked the court to allow it to delay still further, until June 30, 2008.

Statement of Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the 2005 petition to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act:

“Polar bears need our help now, not whenever the Bush administration feels like getting around to it. The administration will do nothing to protect polar bears and nothing about global warming until ordered to do so by a federal judge. That’s why we’ve moved this case as quickly as could possibly be done under the rules of court.”

Statement of Andrew Wetzler, director, NRDC Endangered Species Project:

“The Endangered Species Act is absolutely unambiguous: the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to make a final decision months ago. The scientific evidence is as overwhelming and undeniable ­ polar bears are an endangered species that ought to be protected by the Endangered Species Act.”

Statement of Melanie Duchin, global warming campaigner at Greenpeace USA:

“If the government truly were serious about protecting the polar bear, then the Fish and Wildlife Service would list it immediately under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and protect its Arctic habitat from further oil development.”

A court hearing will be held at 2:00 pm on May 8, 2008, in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California, before the Honorable Judge Claudia Wilkin.

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