polar bear
© unknown
President blots his copybook with green groups for the first time

The Obama administration has shocked environmental groups by retaining a controversial Bush-era ruling that limited protection for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.

Secretary of the interior Ken Salazar announced late last week that the Department of the Interior will retain a special rule issued by the Bush administration last year when it placed the polar bear on the endangered species list.

The rule, known as 4(d), was issued under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act that allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to introduce regulations that modified a species' status under the Act. The 4(d) rule pertaining to the polar bear stops people using the Act to protect the polar bear from activities taking place outside its habitat.

Had the rule not been introduced, it may have been possible for environmental groups to have sued organisations polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, on the basis that they were contributing to global warming that was in turn thawing out the polar bears' Arctic habitat.

The Bush administration implemented the change to avoid environmental groups using the existing law to fight climate change-related cases.

Salazar said that the best course of action for protecting the polar bear would be to "wisely implement" the rule.

"For Salazar to adopt Bush's polar bear extinction plan is confirming the worst fears of his tenure as secretary of the interior," said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity programme director at the Center for Biological Diversity. " Secretary Salazar would apparently prefer to please Sarah Palin than to protect polar bears."

Alaskan governor Sarah Palin had been an outspoken critic of the legislation, and had sued the Bush administration for placing the polar bear on the endangered species list, arguing that it would limit oil exploration in the region.

Secretary Salazar had been given 60 days to review the rule, and waited until the last possible minute to make the announcement.

The decision stands in stark contrast to another made by the Obama administration recently. It revoked a Bush ruling that would have allowed federal agencies to have bypassed independent advice on the environmental impact of projects.