Obama the polar bear killer

Where's the outrage, hollers Bush's press secretary. Why isn't the new president castigated for failing to use the Endangered Species Act to stop climate change?

By Andrew Leonard

Published May 11, 2009 10:06PM (EDT)

Dana Perino, former Bush administration White House Press Secretary, is hopping mad. On Friday, just in time to miss the news-cycle, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that he was keeping in place a Bush-era ruling preventing the Endangered Species Act from being used to address global warming.

Specifically, although polar bears are obviously threatened by climate change, Salazar declared that "the Endangered Species Act is not the appropriate tool for us to deal with what is a global issue."

Which sent Perino off!

...Where is the outrage and the letters from Senator Boxer and Congressman Waxman decrying the Friday afternoon release, calling for investigations and alleging manipulation of the science and the law? Where are the press releases and lawsuits from the environmental groups? Where are the two people who dressed up as polar bears and crashed Sen. Kempthorne's press conference? Where are the breathless and indignant above-the-fold, page one newspaper stories? And the cute photos of the polar bears standing on floating ice floes? Where are the pointed allegations of "rollback" on the cable news scrolls? Where is the bluster and the cynical barbs from the talking heads?

In point of fact, Boxer and a swath of environmental groups quickly decried the move, so maybe Perino should have, you know, looked around and listened to what people were saying before launching her rant. After previously taking gray wolves off the endangered species list, Ken Salazar is quickly emerging as one of the environmental movement's less popular Obama appointees. But on one level, Perino is correct: the current White House isn't getting slammed like the last one was.

And for a very good reason.

The Bush administration was extraordinarily consistent in its efforts to ignore, downplay, or actively misrepresent the science of global warming. The Bush EPA actively worked to serve the interests of industry at the expense of the environment. The Bush Energy and Interior departments actively worked to serve the interests of the oil, gas, and mining industries that they were supposed to be regulating. As a consequence, every Bush administration pronouncement on global warming ended up being viewed with the utmost cynicism.

The complete opposite is true about the Obama administration. The EPA has already determined that it has the right to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. President Obama has made it clear he wants to pass a cap-and-trade emissions-limiting system sooner, rather than later. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has been outspoken on the necessity of dealing with climate change and has been giving money away to renewable energy research-and-development projects with great, and welcome, abandon. Questioning, at this point, the commitment of the Obama administration to tackling the challenge of climate change is just silly.

Which, means, for some of us, that we're prepared to give Ken Salazar the benefit of the doubt. Who knows? Maybe he's right. Maybe the Endangered Species Act isn't the correct tool with which to address climate change. Sorry, Dana Perino, but your president lost any right to the benefit of the doubt very, very early in his administration. Obama has a long, long way to go before he generates anywhere near the outrage and disgust that is destined to be your boss' indelible historical legacy.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Environment Global Warming Globalization How The World Works