A federal court ruled on Thursday that the Obama administration has until December 23 to explain why the polar bear should not be listed as an “endangered” species and should instead be protected under the less-stringent “threatened” status. Elevating the bears’ protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act would have wide ranging implications from the legality of hunting activities, drilling in the Arctic, or even emitting ice-melting carbon dioxide pollution hundreds of miles away from bear habitat.
The Obama administration inherited the polar bear decision from President Bush, including a special rule prohibiting any interpretation of the bears’ threatened status to trigger climate change pollution regulation. Obama also inherited a lawsuit challenging the decision. What the judge in the case decreed last Thursday is that the Bush administration had faulty legal arguments for not listing the bear as endangered.
“In his decision, Judge Sullivan said that the agency was wrong to conclude that a species had to be in imminent danger of extinction in order to qualify as an endangered species. He said that the Endangered Species Act was ambiguous as to whether a species had to be on the brink of extinction in order to be considered endangered. He did not rule on the merits.” – Wall Street Journal
“It’s good news,” Kassie Siegel, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which brought the case before the court in the first place, told Politico. Unfortunately, Kassie also told the Washington DC paper that she expects the Obama administration to try to defend the Bush administration’s policy and overhaul the polar bear’s status.
The ruling puts Obama in a tricky spot. He can defend the threatened decision but if it’s thrown out, he’ll be forced to initiate another endangered species rulemaking process for the polar bear. Under the new Congress, such a rule making will face fierce opposition. New Congressional leadership has already blustered that they will try (again) to undo another Obama endangerment finding: that climate change pollution is a threat to the health and welfare of people.
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