A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) [official website] is not obligated to reduce green house gas emissions, a contributor to global warming [JURIST news archive], in order to protect polar bears [FWS backgrounder]. However, the court also found that the controversial Bush-era special 4(d) rule [text, PDF] in question violated the National Environmental Protection Act [official website] by not reviewing the potential harm to polar bears. Since the Obama administration rewrote the rule and reviewed it, the essential regulation still stands. The Center for Biological Diversity [advocacy website] released a statement [text] for the plaintiffs, a collective of environmental organizations:
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.Although polar bears are at an unendangered population now, a decision that was upheld in June [JURIST report], it is predicted that melting ice caps will kill 10,000 of the species [AP report].
In 2009, the Obama administration received criticism for preserving the special 4(d) rule. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official profile] had received special permission from Congress to amend the rule, which prevented 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. The rule was put in place in December 2008 after the polar bear was listed as threatened on the endangered species list in May 2008. The Department of the Interior [official website] 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, then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced that her office would launch a court challenge [JURIST report] to the listing of the polar bear on the endangered species list. Palin argued that the designation of the polar bear as "threatened" would have a negative impact on development in Alaska.