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White House Lists Polar Bears as 'Threatened'

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

NOAH ADAMS, Host:

And as NPR's John Nielsen reports, today's listing comes with a caveat.

JOHN NIELSEN: Interior secretaries don't often hold press conferences to announce endangered species listings, but that's what Dirk Kempthorne did today when he officially declared the polar bear a threatened species. Kempthorne said he made the call for three main reasons. First, he said, Arctic sea ice is essential to the polar bears' survival.

DIRK KEMPTHORNE: Second, the polar bears sea ice habitat has dramatically melted in recent decades. Third, computer models suggest sea ice is likely to further recede in the future.

NIELSEN: Kempthorne said he'd been convinced that melting sea ice forecast issued by computer models were both accurate and scary. But, he didn't seem to have much faith in the idea that global warming was behind the melting trend, and he said environmentalists shouldn't plan to use the Endangered Species Act or ESA to force government action on climate change.

KEMPTHORNE: Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears, but it should not open the door to use the ESA to regulate green house gas emissions from automobiles, power plants and other sources. That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the Endangered Species Act. ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy.

NIELSEN: Kempthorne says that's why he added some unprecedented language to the polar bear listing; it essentially tries to limit the listing's impact on the energy industry. John Kostyack, a climate change expert at the National Wildlife Federation, called it an attempt to run away from the obvious implications of the listing.

JOHN KOSTYACK: If you are a coal plant dodging global warming pollution, you are contributing to the extinction of the polar bear. He's not willing to say that. And so he said, we're going to put out a rule that details every contributor to global warming pollution that we can't make any causal connection to your activity in the loss of sea ice, which is scientifically incorrect. We will never stand the test of time.

NIELSEN: John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Nielsen
John Nielsen covers environmental issues for NPR. His reports air regularly on NPR's award-winning news magazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. He also prepares documentaries for the NPR/National Geographic Radio Expeditions series, which is heard regularly on Morning Edition. Nielsen also occasionally serves as the substitute host for several NPR News programs.
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