he Center for Biological Depravity Diversity was its hyperbolic self yesterday in an email sent to its supporters (and watchers, like me):
[Interior Sec. Ken] Salazar confirmed our worst fears for his tenure as Secretary of the Interior — he announced that he will adopt Bush’s polar bear extinction plan …
You have to hand it to the folks at the CBD; they know how to gin up the language, turning a simple rule that allows the careful, ongoing use of existing oil production facilities as “Bush’s polar bear extinction plan.” Of course, it’s easier to turn a phrase like that when you don’t need to worry about facts, ethics or honesty like the rest of us.
Leaving CBD’s hyperbole aside, here’s what Salazar did, from DOI’s news release:
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he will retain a special rule [a "4(d) rule"] issued in December for protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, but will closely monitor the implementation of the rule to determine if additional measures are necessary to conserve and recover the polar bear and its habitat. …
Section 4(d) of the ESA allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to tailor regulatory prohibitions for threatened species as deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the species. Hence, the special rule is referred to as a 4(d) rule. …
The rule also states that incidental take of polar bears resulting from activities outside the bear’s range, such as emission of greenhouse gases, will not be prohibited under the ESA.
“Incidental take” means harming, harrassing or killing, when done incidental to other legal activities; stated less bureaucratically, it means “not deliberate.” The polar bear is classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, so if you go out and just shoot one for sport, you’re in big trouble. But with Salazar’s action yesterday, it remains legal to go about the legal activities of maintaining oil production facilities and exploring for oil on oil lease land, even if by some unprovable nexus, your activities cause a chunk of ice to melt, a polar bear to tumble into the sea, somehow forget how to swim, and drown.
The greens pushed hard to get the polar bear listed as endangered, because the 4(d) rule can only be applied to threatened species, not endangered ones. Bush was justified in not listing the polar bear at all – their populations are stable, even growing in some regions, and there’s no proof that polar icemelt is permanent; indeed, last winter’s ice build-up was record-breaking. But in one of his weaker moves, Bush gave in and took the middle ground, listing it as threatened and writing the 4(d) to protect energy production and other activities.
I’ve lived through this myself. In the early 1990s, Hugh Hewitt and I orchestrated the campaign to keep the California gnatcatcher from being listed under Cailfornia’s ESA, then eked out a “threatened” listing from the incoming Clinton administration, dodging the “endangered” bullet. As a result, thousands of new homes and commercial/industrial facilities were built that otherwise would have been stopped dead by the less flexible endangered listing.
And the gnatcatcher, God bless it, is thriving.
The same will certainly be true of the polar bear, which has survived previous warming spells. I’m not sure if the same can be said now of Obama’s cap and trade tax movement, which is already unpopular in Congress. If you doubt the signficance of the hurdles Obama’s facing with this madcap scheme, just ask the free market: The price of CO2 credits has dropped dramatically.
Now Obama must defend the urgency of imposing cap and trade on a crippled, job-shedding economy even while admitting through Salazar’s action that things really aren’t all that urgent. If global warming were the immediate threat the hysterics Obama campaigned to say it is, Salazar would have suspended the 4(d) rule at a minimum and could have even re-opened the process to go for an endangered listing.
That he didn’t is solid evidence that the Obama administration is watching gas prices, which are beginning to creep up again. They know that a repeat of last year’s run-up in gas costs will spell doom to cap and trade, and cost any politician who’s anti-drilling points in the polls. So to keep his numbers up and the changes of cap and trade alive, Obama approved the continuation of the 4(d) in spite of howling opposition from the environmentalists.
That he could make so politic a trade at the expense of the polar bear (at least that’s how the Greenies put it) can only be read as proof that Obama doesn’t view global warming and cap and trade to be issues as important as his own popularity. Smart opponents of cap and trade just got some powerful new ammunition, and I hope they’re loading their legislative and rhetorical weapons as I write.