For Immediate Release
Statement of Conservation Groups on Court Ruling Regarding Endangered Species Act Protection for Polar Bears
WASHINGTON - A federal judge struck down a Bush administration rule today that exempted greenhouse gas emissions from regulation under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Department of the Interior violated the environmental review provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a special rule that excluded from regulation activities occurring outside the range of the polar bear, such as greenhouse gas emissions from polluting facilities like coal plants.
However, the court also held that Interior had broad discretion when crafting species-specific rules and therefore did not substantively violate the Endangered Species Act in adopting the exemption for the polar bear. A similar interim rule issued simultaneously with listing of the polar bear as threatened in May 2008 remains in place until Interior complies with NEPA by completing a new environmental impact statement and issues a new final rule.
The polar bear was the first species added to the endangered species list solely because of threats to the species from global warming. Today’s ruling does not limit the applicability of the ESA to greenhouse gas emissions affecting species listed as endangered under the Act or to other threatened species for which Interior has not issued a specific exemption.
The challenge was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife. The conservation groups responded to the ruling as follows:
“Today’s decision squarely places the fate of the polar bear back in the hands of the Obama administration. Rather than continue to defend an ill-conceived Bush-era rule, the Obama administration should take this opportunity to carefully craft a new rule that meaningfully addresses greenhouse gas emissions, the primary threat to the polar bear,” said Brendan Cummings at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Just this summer, Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest level on record, making polar bear protections more important than ever,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Only by acknowledging and accounting for the dramatic effects of climate change can this administration give this Arctic icon a realistic chance of survival.”
“Now that the Department of the Interior must weigh in for the first time with full environmental analysis, the Obama administration is going to own this issue,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Lands and Wildlife program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It affords the president an opportunity to show he is serious about dealing with climate change and protecting wildlife. The court’s ruling means the Obama administration won’t be able to hide behind Bush-era policies on an issue the public clearly cares about.”
“The court’s decision is bittersweet — it acknowledges the devastating impact of global warming on polar bears and requires further review of the 4(d) rule, but stops short of fully disallowing an exemption for greenhouse gases. We will redouble our efforts to protect the polar bear's Arctic Ocean habitat, and continue to press the Obama administration to use all available tools, including the Endangered Species Act, to address greenhouse emissions and the climate crisis,” said John Hocevar, oceans director at Greenpeace.