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Critics: Polar Bear Plan Must Fight Global Warming

by Dan Joling

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Conservation groups returned to court to challenge Bush administration efforts to help save the polar bear, saying federal officials' refusal to include steps against global warming violates the Endangered Species Act.

In court documents filed late Friday, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups asked a federal judge to reject Interior Department actions that were announced last week.

Polar bears are threatened with extinction in many areas because of the melting of their sea ice habitat. The groups say greenhouse gas emissions have led to rapid melting in the Arctic.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, facing a court deadline because of the groups' earlier lawsuit, had announced Wednesday that polar bears would be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Among the steps he proposed to help them were increasing research and working with Canada to help the bears survive in the wild. But he rejected the addition of broad steps to reduce greenhouse gases, saying he would not allow the Endangered Species Act to be "misused" to regulate global climate change.

Kassie Siegel, climate director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the administration's proposal "violates both logic and the law" because it did not address the primary threat to polar bears. The listing of polar bears under the law is significant, she acknowledged, but the groups want them classified as endangered, a more serious category than threatened.

Joining in the court case were Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They announced their new federal court filing on Tuesday.

Interior spokesman Shane Wolfe said the department generally does not comment on pending litigation.

"The simple fact is that the Endangered Species Act is not a means to address the global challenges of climate change, which call for a global solution," he said.

Kempthorne said Americans deserve an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Quoting President Bush, he said the decision should not be left to "unelected regulators and judges" who enforce the Endangered Species Act. He also said any real solution requires action by all major world economies.

On the Net:

Interior Department: http://www.doi.gov/

Center for Biological Diversity: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org/

Greenpeace USA: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/

© 2008 The Associated Press

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