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Obama decision on polar bear status closely watched

A long-simmering dispute about government protection of the polar bear has drawn in leading environmental law groups and the country’s most powerful business organizations.

Both sides are concerned about the effect that a decision on the bear's status might have on the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say is driving climate change.

The Interior Department faces a legal deadline Thursday to explain why it has so far declined to upgrade the protected status of polar bears to "endangered" from its current status of "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.

Environmental groups normally friendly to the Obama administration have sued Interior to list the bear as endangered, saying the sea ice the bears need for hunting and breeding is being rapidly depleted by warming temperatures.

If the Obama administration listed the polar bear as endangered, it would have to move against factors that endanger it -- large emitters of greenhouse gases. That possibility worries industries dependent on fossil fuels, such as major manufacturers and utilities.

“There is a pronounced push-back from industry because they rightly see that they will have to modify or mitigate their activities to comply with the laws,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Land and Wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups suing to change the polar bear’s status to endangered.

So far, the administration has moved steadily to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But with a tough campaign ahead and a still-wobbly economy, the White House has been trying not to provoke policy battles with business, which could paint environmental regulation as a job killer.

Industry leaders said they would be watching the polar bear decision closely as a signal of the administration’s commitment to compromise with them.

A change from threatened to endangered status “would have profound consequences,” said Richard Ranger, senior policy advisor for the American Petroleum Institute, a lead litigant on the industry side. “It would very much get our attention.”

--Neela Banerjee, from Washington

Photo: A polar bear sow rests with her cubs on the Beaufort Sea, off Alaska. Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sara Palin will have a new thing to complain about, but it does not take much to set her off.

If Obama told us it was Monday, she, and everyone else on Fox News, would find fault.

I have been a dedicated environmentalist my entire life and have made a career of protecting and enhancing our environment. Still, I know the U.S.'s limitations when it comes to stopping global warming.

Government must not act without sound science backing up its methods. Before any efforts are made to curtail industrial activity actions it must be scientifically proven that those action will achieve their objective without placing undue burdens on the economy. That's the goal of the new science guidelines that Obama himself is so proud of.

We shouldn't be surprised that the Obama administration is willing to sell out the polar bear; they have already tried to do that to the wolf, by allowing the greedy ranchers to kill off wolves. Obama made a huge mistake in selecting Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior; he is a tool of big business with no serious record of concern for the environment. I understand the need for jobs, but jobs could be created in clean energy too. Jobs don't have to be dirty. We can have a reduction in greenhouse gases and jobs too.

Greenhouse emissions controls are not something that action by entities within the jurisdiction of the United States can control. Further, polar ice exists not only within the confines of the United States. How can unilateral action regarding greenhouse emission taken by the United States have the effect on polar ice? Assuming that global warming will be affected by controlling greenhouse emissions, would not a global treaty be required to reverse such warming? Developing nations of Asia, Africa, South America, and all the nations of the world would have to restrict such emissions.

Moving the polar bear from threatened to endangered status would force the US economy to move from threatened to endangered status as well. Such an action would be contrary to the best interests of both wildlife and humans living within the US. Leave the status of the polar bears alone.


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