Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The ESA, Polar Bears, and the "Alaska Gap"

Our August 14 blog posting mentioned that the Department of the Interior was proposing changes to the Endangered Species Act that would no longer require federal agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions when assessing their actions' effects on endangered species and their habitats. Despite this proposed relaxation of their guidelines, a recently filed lawsuit claims that the Department is overprotective of polar bears, resulting in "permitting burdens" in Alaska.

The Washington Post recently reported that the American Petroleum Institute and four other businesses/organizations filed a lawsuit against Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne over the agency's May 15 determination that the polar bear was a threatened species (see the final rule as it appeared in the Federal Register). In the August 27 U.S. District Court filing (District of Columbia), which you can find by registering and searching in the U.S. Courts' Pacer system, the plaintiffs claim that a section of the rule, which they refer to as the "Alaska Gap," has "exposed Alaska operations to increased permitting burdens and/or the risk of enforcement by Government authorities and citizen suits . . . contrary to FWS's [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's] own determinations about the nature and effects of global climate change."

Although the Washington Post article seems to imply that Alaska Governor (and presumptive GOP VP nominee) Sarah Palin's administration is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, this isn't actually the case. However, Palin did express her disapproval of the polar bear's endangered species status in a January 5, 2008, article in the New York Times.

You can read a summary of the Interior Department's May 15 polar bear ruling on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Polar Bear web page. For more on the subject, remember that the Government Publications Library has created subject guides on Environmental Species and Climate Change.

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