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Poor Lil’ Polar Bears

Today the Bush administration officially designated polar bears "threatened with extinction." The decision marks the first time that the Endangered Species Act has been used to protect a species from climate change. Right now, polar bears aren’t "endangered" according to the traditional sense of the law, with the arctic bear’s population hovering between 20,000 and 25,000 globally. But, their habitat is literally melting. Arctic sea ice is disappearing as the region warms more rapidly than anywhere else in the world.

While the Bush administration says the polar bear must be protected due to the threat of global warming, it simultaneously says that this protection won’t influence global warming or energy policy. Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the ESA was "never meant to regulate global climate change." Therefore, he said it would be "inappropriate" to use the protection of the polar bear to reduce greenhouse gases.

But isn’t the point of putting polar bears on the endangered species list to reduce human threat to their existence? Does it really make sense to say, we need to protect this animal from global warming, but we’re not doing anything about global warming itself?

That’s what the Sierra Club wants to know.

The group is especially vexed by the Bush administration’s move toward drilling in polar bears’ habitat. "Allowing destructive energy development in polar bear habitat is akin to diagnosing someone with lung cancer and then handing them a lit cigarette," Pope said.

Some in Congress expressed similar concerns about drilling. From a press release by Sen. John Kerry’s office:

The original deadline for polar bear listing was January 9, 2008. The delay in listing has allowed the Administration to move forward with oil and gas lease sales in over 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, without any consideration of the impact of drilling on the resident polar bear population.

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