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Judge delivers 'bittersweet' polar bear ruling

  • Author: Amanda Coyne
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published October 17, 2011

In a ruling that both environmentalists and Alaska Rep. Don Young can applaud, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan threw out a key section of an Interior Department rule that declared global warming is threatening the survival of the polar bear, making regulations of greenhouse gases mandatory.

Sullivan said that Fish and Wildlife Service failed to conduct a proper environmental review when creating the protections for the polar bear. The agency must now go back and conduct an environmental assessment of the outcome of the rule, and consider other options.

In other words, according to Politico, "the Obama administration can't be forced to use endangered species law to regulate greenhouse gases . . . but it can't ignore the idea either."

Politico quotes the judge as writing the following:

The question at the heart of this litigation — whether the ESA is an effective or appropriate tool to address the threat of climate change — is not a question that this court can decide based upon its own independent assessment, particularly in the abstract. The answer to that question will ultimately be grounded in science and policy determinations that are beyond the purview of this court.

In keeping with his optimistic disposition, Young all but declared victory:

Today's decision by a federal judge that the Fish and Wildlife Service cannot use the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is the right one. The lawsuits to list the polar bear as endangered were never about protecting polar bears. Instead they were nothing more than a back door approach to regulate CO2 and stop responsible development from moving forward. This is a good decision, not only for Alaska but for this nation as we look to become more energy independent.

A press release sent by the groups who brought the case to court -- Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife -- said that today's ruling "does not limit the applicability of the ESA to greenhouse gas emissions affecting species listed as endangered under the Act or to other threatened species for which Interior has not issued a specific exemption."

It called the ruling, "bittersweet."

Sullivan is the same judge who presided over the corruption trail of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, and who subsequently threw out his conviction.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)