Feds again omit greenhouse gas from policy on polar bears

Regulators see no link between Florida smog, decreasing ice habitat.

Associated PressApril 17, 2012 

Polar bear management policy proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to omit regulation of greenhouse gases blamed for the climate warming that's reducing the animals' summer sea ice habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that it is proposing a special rule clarifying how the agency will manage polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed rule, the agency said, will replace a similar special rule issued in 2008, but as before, will not change regulations regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

A spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity said that means the Obama administration will duplicate ineffective polar bear management policies put in place by the Bush administration. Polar bear conservation measures that don't mention greenhouse gases are like a discussion of the Titanic without mentioning icebergs, Brendan Cummings said.

"What they're doing is essentially going through a song and dance routine to essentially say, 'We're going to do nothing,'" Cummings said.

But Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said the Endangered Species Act is not appropriate for controlling greenhouse gas pollution, in part because pollutants that contribute to polar bear habitat loss come from all over the world.

"We can say a guy starting his car up in Florida is contributing to the load of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," Woods said. "But given the fact that all greenhouse gases from all sources are resulting in the modification of the habitat, we certainly can't say that that guy in Florida has to consult with the service before he starts his car."

The center petitioned the federal government to list polar bears as threatened or endangered and was one of three groups that sued to force a decision.

Former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in 2008 announced polar bears would be listed as threatened because of the loss of Arctic sea ice, the main habitat of polar bears. Arctic summer sea ice by September 2008 shrunk to 1.74 million square miles, 860,000 square miles below the average between 1979 and 2000.

However, Kempthorne also invoked a special rule allowed under the Endangered Species Act and said the law would not be used to regulate limit greenhouse gases.

The interior secretary, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, has the discretion under to determine measures necessary for the conservation of the species. Cummings called Kempthorne's action, and the latest proposal under the special rule, a means to prevent the agency or conservation groups from going after greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's complete doublespeak," he said. "It's saying, 'Here is a rule necessary for the conservation of the polar bear,' yet the only thing it does is exempt from regulation the overwhelming threat to the species."

Woods said that are other tools to manage greenhouse gasses and suggested the Clean Air Act. He added that Endangered Species Act traditionally deals with a direct link between an action and the killing of a species within its range, such as manure from a dairy farm entering a stream and killing endangered trout.

Text of the proposed rule will not be available until Wednesday. Publishing the proposed special rule Thursday opens a 60-day public comment period.

According to the agency, the rule adopts conservation regulatory requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other protections as the appropriate regulations for polar bears. Activity already permitted under the MMPA will not need additional authorization under the Endangered Species Act, the announcement said, including offshore oil and gas development, other than certain supplemental provisions.

Polar bear protections under the MMPA are in some cases superior to the protections under the Endangered Species Act, Woods said. The law allows hazing that chases polar bears out of Native villages, he said, and without that bears could harm people, or more likely, be shot and killed in a rural community.

The MMPA has not been enough to protect polar bears, Cummings said.

"The Obama administration, rather than actually look at reality, simply says that what's best for the conservation of the polar bear is to ignore the overriding threat to the species and avoid controversy and hope the species quietly goes extinct without attempting to do anything about it," Cummings said. "It's abysmal."

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