[JURIST] The US Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] will maintain [press release] a controversial Bush-era rule [text, PDF; DOI backgrounder] that limits how polar bears are protected from global warming [JURIST news archive], Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official profile] announced Friday. Salazar had received special permission from Congress to amend the rule, which prevents the use of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [text, PDF] to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Polar bears are protected under the ESA, and environmentalists have argued that the release of greenhouse gases has contributed to global warming, which is destroying the polar bear's arctic habitat. Salazar said:
We must do all we can to help the polar bear recover, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change. However, the Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions. Instead, we need a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts – including the loss of sea ice. Both President Obama and I are committed to achieving that goal.
Still, some environmentalists argue that the rule is harmful to polar bears. Defenders of Wildlife [advocacy website] criticized [press release] the decision to maintain the rule, saying it, "made no sense under the Bush administration and it certainly makes no sense for the Obama administration."
The rule was put in place in December after the polar bear was listed [press release] as threatened on the endangered species list last May. The DOI made the designation more than two years after the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council [advocacy websites] petitioned to protect the polar bear under the ESA. Shortly after that, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin [official profile] announced that her office would launch a court challenge [press release; JURIST report] to the listing of the polar bear on the endangered species list. Palin argues that the designation of the polar bear as "threatened" has a negative impact on development in Alaska.