May 8th, 2009 by Jeff Pecaro
The Obama administration’s Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced today that he won’t be changing George W. Bush’s rule that global factors, such as climate change, cannot be considered in analyzing the polar bear’s survival.
The rule, instituted in the last months of Bush’s presidency, prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services from considering whether practices outside the polar bear’s territory are affecting its chances for survival.
This severely limits the environmental agencies’ ability to regulate how the effects of climate change are impacting the polar bear and its habitat. Congress passed legislation on March 10th that specifically allowed Salazar to rescind this rule-change by the Bush administration, but he has decided today to allow the deadline for that rule change to pass.
The inclusion of climate change in the protections of the Endangered Species Act presents a nightmare scenario for many of the major players in American industry, who could be forced by federal law to undergo costly and expansive changes if science could provide a causal link between their projects or proposals and the impending extinction of such a popular and charismatic species.
The Endangered Species Act was intended to protect animals at risk of extinction, and their habitats, from danger as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” Bush’s rule, limiting the protections available to a species to actions taken in that animal’s home-range, legally removes the EPA’s ability to hold American industry responsible for how their actions are affecting the arctic.
One of the ESA’s most powerful tools is its effect on the approval of new projects, such as power plants, factories, and housing developments. Environmental groups have successfully brought suit to stop or alter a number of projects that threatened habitats critical to a species’ survival, using the Act for legal justification.
While it may protect American industry from making costly changes, at least for the time being, it seems to indicate that Salazar’s agency and Obama’s government are not ready to accept responsibility for how climate change that is threatening the polar bear.
Photo Credit: Just Being Myself on Flickr under Creative Commons license.
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