Will emission reductions save the polar bear?


Author:  Damien M. Schiff

One of the principal fears of advocates for private property rights and limited government, when it comes to the polar bear, is that the federal government will use the animal's listing under the Endangered Species Act as a backdoor means of regulating most of the American economy.  For the bear's ESA listing was based on predicted losses in its sea ice habitat caused by anthropogenic global warming.  Thus, for businesses that need a federal permit or have some other federal nexus, the Service is, in theory, able to dictate those businesses' emissions as a means of preventing "jeopardy" to the polar bear.

To be sure, the Service disclaimed this broad regulatory power when it listed the polar bear last year.  But that hasn't stopped many in the environmental community from arguing that the Service does in fact have such power, and is duty-bound to excercise it.  The vanguard of this movement is the ongoing environmentalist lawsuit against the Service that contends that the polar bear should be listed as endangered, not threatened (the distinction is important because the Service has more leeway in regulating threatened species under the ESA).

Well, adding fuel to the fire this week is a new study, published in Nature online, arguing that we can save the polar bear if we can keep global levels of greenhouse gases to 450 parts per million.  The study's lead author is Dr. Steven Amtrup, whose earlier work formed the basis of the Service's decision to list the polar bear.  In a fairly obvious call to action, Dr. Amstrup urges:

If people and leaders think there's nothing to do, they will do nothing. . . .  We have now shown there is something that can be done to save polar bears.  This problem is not irreversible.

The Service, at least for now, is not changing position.  A Service official, commenting on the Amstrup study, reassured that, with respect to

the issue of mitigation, that's a policy decision and isn't appropriate to address under the Endangered Species Act.  [The Amstrup study] doesn't alter that.

It doesn't take much imagination to see this issue being decided in court.  Let's hope that, with a victory in PLF's challenge to the polar bear's listing, we'll never get to that point.