Polar bears declared a threatened species; oil drilling to continue
At a press conference held just a few minutes ago, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the polar bear will receive some protection under the Endangered Species Act.
"Today I am listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act," said Kempthorne. "I am also announcing that this listing decision will be accompanied by administrative guidance and a rule that defines the scope of impact my decision will have, in order to protect the polar bear while limiting the unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States."
A threatened species, under the law, is one likely to become endangered in the near future. Kempthorne said that the loss of sea ice due to climate change will put the polar bear in grave danger within 45 years.
The ruling is actually rather complex and will probably not do much immediately to protect the polar bear. Kempthorne promised that this ruling does not mean the Endangered Species Act will be used to regulate climate change. He also insisted that this ruling will not slow down the loss of sea ice, and called on the "global community" to work on climate change as a separate issue.
The ruling will also not affect oil drilling in the North Atlantic. "This rule, effective immediately," said Kempthorne, "will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way."
Kempthorne pointedly called the Endangered Species Act an "inflexible" law which does not allow any leeway in decisions depending on economic conditions and impact.
Expect plenty of feedback from conservation groups over the next 24 hours.
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