A central question about the Endangered Species Act was behind the legal wrangling Wednesday in a federal courtroom: What, if anything, can be done to save polar bears as the earth warms and sea ice recedes?
Courts have done plenty in the past to protect endangered or threatened species, including putting a halt to logging or construction, noted U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. But, he asked, what should be done when the primary threat to polar bears is the loss of their sea ice habitat?
"How do we fix that?" he asked Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead lawyer for the environmental coalition that's seeking to change polar bears' status from merely threatened to endangered.
"Deep and rapid greenhouse gas reductions," Siegel said.
Her answer got at the heart of what environmental groups hope to do with their lawsuit: Force the Obama administration to reconsider a rule that prohibits using the Endangered Species Act as a tool to regulate greenhouse gases.