The Fish and Wildlife Service has asked for court permission to delay its decision on whether or not to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act until June 30.
That's according to environmental groups Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council which had petitioned the Bush Administration to list the polar bear as endangered way back in 2005. The Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to have decided Jan. 9, and now has been sued to force a decision.
The decision is seen as one way to force the Bush Administration to reckon with global warming, since the melting of Arctic sea ice is a major threat to polar bears. By some estimates, two-thirds of the world's polar bears could be gone by 2050, primarily due to loss of ice, which makes it hard or impossible for them to migrate and find food.
Critics have pointed out that during the delay, oil and gas companies have been granted government rights to develop energy reserves in polar bear habitat, including areas that might well be protected if the species is listed as threatened. In February, Shell Oil placed a bid for rights to drill the Chukchi Sea, where an estimated one-tenth of Americas polar bears live, according to the Sierra Club. Oil and gas activities, including seismic testing, are due to begin in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
President Bush made a glancing comment on the issue in his speech on global warming this week, when he suggested that neither the Clean Air Act nor the Endangered Species Act nor any other existing legal framework is suited to the task of dealing with climate change.
When it comes to polar bears, it looks as though the Bush Administration has won a delay regardless of the success of environmental groups in court. The hearing on the issue is scheduled for May 8.
Here's what some of the environmental groups had to say:
Polar bears need our help now, not whenever the Bush administration feels like getting around to it," 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. "The administration will do nothing to protect polar bears and nothing about global warming until ordered to do so by a federal judge. Thats why weve moved this case as quickly could possibly be done under the rules of court."
The Endangered Species Act is absolutely unambiguous: the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to make a final decision months ago," said Andrew Wetzler, director of the NRDC Endangered Species Project. "The scientific evidence is as overwhelming and undeniable polar bears are an endangered species that ought to be protected by the Endangered Species Act.
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, said Melanie Duchin, global warming campaigner at Greenpeace USA.
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