WASHINGTON -- The Interior Department is letting stand a Bush administration regulation that limits protection of polar bears from global warming, three people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will announce on Friday that he will not rescind the Bush rule, although Congress gave him authority to do so. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to pre-empt the secretary's announcement.
A year ago, the iconic polar bear was declared a threatened species because global warming is causing a severe decline in Arctic sea ice, the bear's habitat. But the Bush administration rules limit that protection, saying no action outside the Arctic region could be considered a threat to the bear under the law.
Environmentalists have strongly opposed the rule as have many members of Congress. They argued the limits violate the Endangered Species Act because the release of greenhouse gases from power plants, factories and cars indirectly threaten the bear's survival.
In March, federal lawmakers authorized Salazar to scrap the Bush regulation without going through a long regulatory process. The deadline for such action was Saturday, 60 days after Congress acted.
Salazar was expected to say that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will further study the limitations established by the "special rule" issued by the Bush administration in March 2008 when the bear was officially declared a threatened specie because of the reduction in Arctic sea ice, which is the bear's habitat.
But business groups and their supporters in Congress have argued strongly that the Endangered Species Act is the improper vehicle for addressing climate change and that there are other ways to deal with the global environmental issue.
Congress is trying to craft broad legislation that would limit greenhouse gases and, separately, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun a lengthy regulatory process that could lead to heat-trapping emissions being controlled under the federal Clean Air Act. Last month, the EPA declared carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases a danger to public health.
But after the polar bear was declared threatened in March 2008, and brought under the protection of the Endangered Species Act because of climate change, environmentalists hoped they could use the species law to force broader nationwide limits of greenhouse gases.
The Bush special rule for the polar bear "significantly undercuts protections for the polar bear by omitting global warming pollution as a factor in the polar bear's risk of extinction," said Jane Kochersperger, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, which delivered 80,000 petitions to the Interior Department after they were collected by the two environmental groups.
On Thursday, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, urged Salazar to keep the Bush rule in place.
"This reaches far beyond the scope of polar bears in the Arctic and could put jobs and economic activity across the entire nation at risk," said Hastings.