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Producers Back Obama Administration's Polar Bear Decision

The American Petroleum Institute (API) says it supports the Interior Department's decision to retain the controversial Bush-era polar bear rule, which restricts the use of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are contributing to the shrinking of the bear's Arctic habitat.

"We welcome the administration's decision because we, like Secretary Ken Salazar, recognize that the Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation's carbon emissions," said API President Jack Gerard. "Instead we need a comprehensive, integrated energy and climate strategy to address this complex global challenge. This decision serves to protect the polar bear while providing greater regulatory certainty not only to the oil and gas industry, but also to all U.S. manufacturers," he noted.

"To see the polar bear's habitat melting and an iconic species threatened is an environmental tragedy of the modern age...We must do all we can to help the polar bear recover, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change," Salazar told reporters Friday. However, he said the ESA is not the "proper mechanism" to curb the country's GHG emissions.

"In our judgment keeping the rule is the best course of action for the polar bear," said Thomas L. Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. "We will continue to reach out and listen to the public and a wide range of stakeholders as we monitor the rule, and will not hesitate to take additional steps if necessary to protect this...species."

While Interior generally recognizes the impact of climate change on polar bears, "it is currently not possible to directly link the emission of greenhouse gases from a specific power plant [or other facilities] to effects on specific bears or bear populations. This direct 'connect-the-dots' standard is required under the [ESA] and court rulings. Therefore the Fish and Wildlife Service's [FWS] policy guidance to its field staff is not to require such [ESA] consultations" with the agency with respect to the emissions impact of projects on polar bears, Interior said.

"The department does not believe that a project-by-project ESA review of proposed actions that have the potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of where they occur or how much they contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, is the appropriate tool for addressing climate change impacts," the department said. Rather a "comprehensive approach is needed in order to protect the polar bear and other species that are impacted by climate change. The administration is actively working with Congress to pursue such a comprehensive strategy."

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