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Problem for Polar Bears: A Disappointing Ruling from Department of Interior

06/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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In another disappointing turn of events, today Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar effectively endorsed the Bush Administration's policy of excluding the effects of global warming pollution on polar bears from consideration under the Endangered Species Act.  The Secretary decided not to repeal or modify a rule, first issued when the polar bear was listed as a threatened species, that effectively excludes global warming pollution from the prohibition against "taking" (harming or killing) polar bears.

The weird thing about the rule is that it treats global warming pollution differently than other forms of global pollution.  Mercury pollution (ironically, also emitted from coal-fired power plants) also harms wildlife, but we've never categorically ruled out its consideration under the Endangered Species Act.  The same can be said of PCBs.  Indeed, one of the impetuses for passing the Endangered Species Act as the widespread use of DDT, which endangered bird species around the globe.  My point is this: the Endangered Species Act is a valuable tool that can be used to help control many different forms of pollution.  We should treat greenhouse gasses no differently.

Another strange thing about the Secretary's decision is the fact that just last week he decided to withdraw an eleventh-hour Bush Administration regulation that changed the requirements for inter-agency consultation under the Endangered Species Act.  Those regulatory changes were in large part premised on excluding the consideration of global warming pollution during such consultation.  So why did the Department of the Interior choose to withdraw one, but not the other?

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.