As promised, environmental groups have sued the Bush Administration over the loopholes it wrote into the protections it will offer the polar bear as a threatened species.
The polar bear's legal saga is highly symbolic, because the predator's icy Arctic habitat is melting in the face of global warming. But the lawsuits are all about hard facts.
Environmental groups petitioned in 2005 to have the polar bear protected by the Endangered Species Act. Last week, after losing repeated court cases on various aspects of the decision-making process, the Bush Administration acknowledged that climate change endangered the creature, and listed it as threatened. But officials said it would not justify federal permitting decisions based on the Endangered Species Act, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are the root cause of man-made global warming.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have challenged those caveats, written as a "special rule" tacked on to the threatened species designation. The administration's argument is that the incremental buildup of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere cannot be considered a "taking" of a polar bear, in the sense that "taking" typically means directly killing or destroying habitat through development. Environmentalists argue that each tailpipe and smokestack contributes a bit to the ultimate "taking" so the Endangered Species Act requires government to regulate them.The listing of the polar bear is a momentous event that provides immediate and significant protections for the species, but the bear will not survive unless we actually implement the full protections of the law, said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the 2005 petition to protect the species. The Endangered Species Act requires the government to identify and then eliminate threats to a species. The administrations attempt to create an exemption for greenhouse gas emissions, the primary threat to the polar bear, violates both logic and the law.
Two-thirds of the world's polar bears could be dead by 2050, based on projections of the melting of Arctic sea ice. It is not the only Arctic animal threatened by the changing climate and the loss of sea ice. No region has experienced more dramatic warming than the Arctic, and scientists see it as a harbinger of the degree of change to come across the globe.
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