Environmentalists for a long time now have been trying to enhance the status of polar bears from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered’ thereby allowing more protection to the species. But a federal judge last week upheld the listing to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Unlike environment lovers, many industrial groups do not want the Polar Bear to be listed at all. But last week U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia issued a 116 opinion on why the judge felt to uphold the George W. Bush administration’s decision to list the species as threatened.
It was in 2008 that the polar bear was first enlisted as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Services. Since then, the decision has been debated continuously with many in favor and many against the listing.
Environmentalists argue that because of global warming and climate change, the polar bear habitat is becoming threatened. They therefore wish to use the ESA as a tool to approach Obama administration and regulate carbon emissions.
Judge Sullivan however has yet to rule on that issue. In the present case he stressed how judges had to make judgments within certain constrains. As per the supreme court precedent when the definition of some terms are not specific, ‘endangered’ in this cases, the federal agencies are allowed to interpret the law in their own terms. Therefore, it becomes difficult for a judge to pass on a decision.
The judge noted that he was “persuaded that the listing rule survives this highly deferential standard” and that the plaintiffs challenging the listing “have failed to demonstrate that the agency’s listing determination rises to the level of irrationality.”
He stressed ultimately it was how each one interpreted the listing,
“Nothing more than competing views about policy and science,” Sullivan noted.
He also stressed that as a judge he did not have the right to favor someone’s opinion but uphold the federal agencies prior ruling of listing the polar bear as threatened.
Sullivan said he “is not empowered to choose among these competing views. Instead, this court is bound to uphold the agency’s determination that the polar bear is a threatened species as long as it is reasonable, regardless of whether there may be other reasonable, or even more reasonable, views.”
In November last year Sullivan had asked the Obama government to provide a more detailed analysis of why the Polar Bear was marked ‘threatened’. In February he said that he was satisfied with what the government was doing.
The judge also remarked though that as far as global warming issues were concerned his views were in favor of environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Certainly, where global warming has been identified as the primary threat to the polar bear’s sea ice habitat and the agency has acknowledged that the global warming trend is unlikely to reverse itself, a conclusion that the species is … ‘in danger of extinction’ has undeniable appeal,” Sullivan wrote in a footnote.
Andrew Wetzler, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council also noted the important thing coming out of the decision was that the Polar Bear was at least still protected.
“The most important thing is that the polar bear will keep its protections,” he said. “We feel those protections should be slightly stronger than they are now.”
M. Reed Hopper, a lawyer from the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation who wished the bear to be delisted felt that the judge “did not apply any independent analysis” in reaching his conclusion.
Now that the listing issue has been resolved, the next task at hand for the environment groups and also the judge is to address the special rule that accompanied the listing that limits the use of the threatened listing to tackle greenhouse gas emissions called the 4(d) rule.
“That’s the one that has the most important climate policy implications,” Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity said.
It is again wait and watch for the group to see whether the Polar bear’s receding habitat is saved or not.