The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302 or

150 Groups Urge Obama to Save Polar Bears From Climate Catastrophe

Letter Requests Withdrawal of Proposal to Exempt Greenhouse Gas Pollution From Endangered Species Act


More than 150 public-interest organizations representing millions of Americans today called on the Obama administration to "give polar bears and the climate the protection they need and deserve under the law."

The groups' letter urges the Department of the Interior to reconsider plans to reissue a Bush administration decision that exempts greenhouse gas pollution -- the primary threat facing polar bears -- from regulation under the Endangered Species Act.

"As carbon dioxide pollution hits record levels, polar bears face extinction at the hands of catastrophic climate change," said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute and author of the petition that led to Endangered Species Act listing for the bear in 2008. "Instead of seizing this moment to save polar bears, President Obama has decided to rely on the same old Bush administration rule that leaves this magnificent species on thin ice."

The organizations signing the letter include the U.S. Climate Action Network, which represents more than 80 organizations; the Endangered Species Coalition, which represents more than 400 organizations; and Greenpeace, Interfaith Power and Light, Labor Network for Sustainability,, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Wilderness League, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Students for Environmental Action and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"Without deep and rapid greenhouse pollution reduction, the loss of the Arctic sea ice ecosystem will not only drive the polar bear extinct but will greatly exacerbate climate damages around the world," says the groups' letter.

Scientific studies show that, because of the rapid melting of their Arctic habitat, two-thirds of the world's polar bears, including all the polar bears in Alaska, are likely to be extinct within the next 40 years unless greenhouse gases pollution is significantly reduced.

Monitoring stations in the Arctic recently reported that CO2 levels there have risen to 400 parts per million -- well above the 350 ppm needed to mitigate sea-ice loss and ward off other dangerous impacts.

In 2008, polar bears became the first species added to the threatened species list solely because of threats from global warming. That designation followed a legal petition from the Center, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But the Bush administration simultaneously issued a special rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act that gave the polar bear fewer protections than other species. The rule specifically exempted greenhouse gas emissions from programs that would have helped reduce them.

In response to an October 2011 court order, the Department of the Interior was required to reconsider the Bush decision. But the Obama administration instead proposed reissuing the same greenhouse gas pollution exemption. The official comment period on the rule closes today, with the rule scheduled for finalization by the end of 2012.

"Polar bears are already drowning and starving because of global warming," said Siegel. "If these amazing animals are going to survive, they need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act."

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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