Polar bears will now be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
But in announcing the listing, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said the decision should not be “misused” to regulate global climate change.
“Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears. But it should not open the door to use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources,” said Kempthorne.
“That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the ESA law. The ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy.”
It is certainly an inappropriate tool for shaping such policy. And it just as certainly the tool that will be used quite effectively to do so. Like I wrote over a year ago, this is nothing more than a backdoor way of implementing Kyoto in the US.
If the polar bear were listed as a threatened species, all federal agencies would have to ensure that anything they authorize that might affect polar bears will not jeopardize their survival or the sea ice where they live. That could include oil and gas exploration, commercial shipping or even releases of toxic contaminants or climate-affecting pollution.
Environmentalists hope that invoking the Endangered Species Act protections might eventually lead the government to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases blamed for warming the atmosphere.
“The Interior Department has pretty much explicitly said that they don’t think they have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emission, but we know that the Endangered Species Act goes well beyond these walls, that it’s taken into account by other agencies,” said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace.
Since the above was written, the Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but more importantly, under the ESA the government is required to evaluate any project that may have an impact on endangered species. Normally this would be limited to such species within the geographical span of the proposed project, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Greenpeace, et al., will attempt to draw a direct connection between whichever new project they are challenging and polar bears using the threat of increased greenhouse gas emissions.
The coup de grace, of course, will be when all private industry and behavior is brought with in the realm of the EPA’s regulation authority (my emphasis):
As Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne noted, the 1973 Endangered Species Act is “perhaps the least flexible law Congress has ever enacted.” In 2005, green litigants took advantage of this rigidity, suing the government to force it to label the polar bear at risk for extinction. Since the 1980s, the sea ice that the bears use to hunt and breed has been receding. Although the population has increased from a low of 12,000 in the 1960s to roughly 25,000 today – perhaps a record high – computer projections anticipate that Arctic pack ice will continue to melt over the next half-century. This could, maybe, someday, lead to population declines.
The lawsuits were hardly motivated by concern for polar bear welfare. Instead, environmentalists asserted that the ice is thinning because of human-induced global warming. A formal endangered listing is one more arrow in their legal quiver as they try to run U.S. climate policy through the judiciary.
They’ll argue that emissions from power plants, refineries, automobiles – anything that produces carbon – would contribute to warming, thus contributing to habitat destruction, and thus should be restricted by the Endangered Species Act. This logic could be used to rewrite existing environmental policy to accommodate greenhouse gasses, purposes for which they were never intended but with economy-wide repercussions.
Is there any doubt that granting full regulatory control over all productive activities is the ultimate goal of these lawsuits? I’m sure that some in the movement are motivated entirely by their heart-felt concern for the welfare of animals and the environment. But the vast majority of these environmental activists are driven by the desire to bring capitalist forces to heel, towards which end their totalitarian instincts guide them. Passage of the ESA in 1973 was the first step in that cause. The combined forces of the AGW movement with this latest court victory may be all that’s needed to achieve their goal.
See also: McQ, who has more on the listing of polar bears as a threatened species.
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