On NBC's Nightly News, Brian Williams said that the Bush administration's decision to list polar bears as a threatened species was a "huge milestone." But neither he nor the Nightly News report on the subject mentioned that the "milestone" comes after environmental groups twice sued the administration to make a listing decision -- and just one day before a court-ordered deadline to make a final decision on the polar bear's status.
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On the May 14 edition of NBC's Nightly News, while previewing a report on the Department of Interior's announcement that it was listing the polar bear as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), anchor Brian Williams said: "Then today, a huge milestone by the Bush administration: Polar bears were declared a threatened species." However, neither Williams nor the report by chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson mentioned that the "milestone" comes after environmental groups twice sued the administration to make a listing decision, almost two years after the administration published a proposed rule to list the polar bear as a threatened species -- and just one day before a court-ordered deadline to make a final decision on the polar bear's status.
By contrast, a May 15 article in The Washington Post noted: "Yesterday's decision marked the resolution of a lengthy battle between environmental groups and the Bush administration, though it is not likely to be the last one over the issue. The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned to list the polar bear in 2005. When the Interior Department took no action, the groups sued. As part of a settlement, the administration proposed listing the polar bear as threatened in late 2006, but it delayed finalizing the rule until the groups took the government to court again and won a ruling setting a deadline of today."
The article also quoted the former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under President Clinton as saying: "The administration has been brought kicking and screaming to this decision."
The environmental groups sued the Bush administration in December 2005 after FWS did not act on their petition to consider listing the polar bear under the ESA. As a result of that lawsuit, in February 2006, FWS began a full status review of the polar bear. In June 2006, the federal district court granted the parties' stipulated settlement agreement, which committed FWS to make the second of three required findings under the ESA by December 27, 2006, at which time the administration announced the proposal to list the species as "threatened." On January 9, 2007, pursuant to that agreement, FWS published in the Federal Register a proposed rule to list the polar bear as a threatened species. Under the ESA, the administration was required to make a final listing decision within one year of the proposal, or January 9, 2008. After the administration did not make its final decision within the deadline, the groups again filed suit on March 10. On April 28, the district court for the Northern District of California issued an order requiring the administration to issue a final decision by May 15. The administration announced its decision to list the polar bear as threatened on May 14.
From the May 14 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:
WILLIAMS: This has been a very big week for those who are fighting to save the environment. Yesterday in an interview, President Bush said there's no question global warming is real. Then today, a huge milestone by the Bush administration: Polar bears were declared a threatened species. But none of that apparently has changed the fight over what to do about climate change. Our report tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson:
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THOMPSON: The polar bear is on thin ice and could well be on its way to extinction. Today the Bush administration acknowledged global warming is shrinking sea ice, a crucial part of the bear's habitat in Alaska. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne used satellite images to show the dramatic change in ice from 1979 to today in explaining his decision to list the bear as threatened, but he insisted this would not be a way to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and power plants.
KEMPTHORNE: The Endangered Species Act is not the means nor the method nor the vehicle by which you can deal with global climate change.
THOMPSON: That disappointed many environmental groups, leading some to label the listing as an empty victory.
DALE BRYK (National Resources Defense Council): The administration on the one hand is saying, "Yes, global warming is the dominant threat to your survival." But at the very same time, they're saying, "We're going to do nothing to protect you from that threat."
THOMPSON: Dr. Scott Bergen of the Wildlife Conservation Society says they can already see the impacts of the shrinking ice. Pregnant females are lighter, and fewer cubs are surviving their first year.
What role does the sea ice play in the polar bears' survival?
BERGEN: It determines the polar bears' survival.
THOMPSON: The 20,000-plus bears use the ice to catch the seals they feed on.
The fear is, without protection, this will be one of the few places polar bears exist. Last year, government scientists predicted two-thirds of all polar bears will disappear by the year 2050, including every bear in Alaska. And today a new international study confirmed man-made climate change is causing a reduction in the number of bears, more evidence that those in the wild tonight are at risk. Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.
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