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Politicizing the Polar Bear
Posted on Jun 30, 2008
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin responded by submitting an Op-Ed piece to The New York Times (published last Jan. 5), in which she argued against listing the polar bear, saying that “polar bears are more numerous than they were 40 years ago” and they don’t need government protection. She suggests that “climate change” is the only threat to the bears, never mentioning the real reason that environmental groups are in favor of the listing: that oil and gas drilling would wreak havoc with the bears’ Alaskan habitat. Writing in The San Francisco Chronicle, Jane Kay said, “Environmental groups fear that political meddling and a rush to sell oil leases in Arctic waters are behind the Bush administration’s announcement that it will miss a legal deadline to determine whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. ... Major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, and Greenpeace, as well as some congressional leaders ... fear that the polar bear decision has been purposefully delayed to allow a first-time oil lease sale to go forward Feb. 6 in Alaska’s pristine Chukchi Sea, which provides one-tenth of the habitat for the world’s polar bears.”
The oil and gas industry has contributed millions of dollars to Alaskans; the polar bear hasn’t contributed much except a few pretty pictures and an uncomfortable controversy about endangered species. One of the Alaskans who has benefited from the Alaska pipeline is Ted Stevens, the longest-serving senator in the history of the Republican Party. In the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Jan. 10, 2008) Stevens said that listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act would impact oil and gas leasing on Alaska’s North Slope and possibly offshore and could even block the development of a natural gas pipeline. “If the polar bear is listed,” he said, “its habitat will be subject to new criteria as far as any development, and the major development being considered today in the polar bear habitat is the natural gas pipeline.” The listing is unnecessary, he continued, “and backed largely by environmentalists bent on blocking development projects.” Those darned environmentalists! Worried about a few bears when there’s millions to be made from another pipeline!
Most Alaskans—and almost all Alaskan politicians—are in favor of the oil leases, and opposed to the listing of the polar bear. If the Chukchi Sea wells come in, it would probably mean another pipeline and another bonanza for Alaskans. Don Young, the sole U.S. House member from Alaska since 1973, said in an Associated Press interview, “This is yet another example of how a law with the best of intentions has been subverted by the lawyers for the extreme environmental organizations and the liberal Democratic leadership.” (Young, a Republican, is under federal investigation for possibly taking bribes, illegal gratuities or unreported gifts.) The same politicians are ardently sup-porting the opening of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, despite opposition from environmentalists and politicians in the Lower 48.
Canadian Inuit leaders criticized environmentalists for pushing Washington to declare the polar bear a threatened species, saying the move was unnecessary and would hurt the local economy by deterring American hunters who spend millions of dollars a year to shoot the animals in northern Canada. Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Council (Tapiriit) of Canada, said, “The polar bear is a very important subsistence, economic, cultural, conservation, management, and rights concern for Inuit in Canada. It’s a complex and multilevel concern. But it seems the media, environmental groups, and the public are looking at this in overly simplistic black-and-white terms as the demise of the polar bear from climate change and sports hunting.”
Fearful that politics would take precedence over conservation and that Lease Sale 193 would occur before the polar bear could be listed under the Endangered Species Act, Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming introduced legislation on Jan. 17, 2008, that would compel the Bush administration to protect the polar bear before it allows widespread oil drilling in Alaska. On the day of the hearings, the committee published Markey’s remarks:
In early January, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would miss the statutory deadline to reach a decision on listing the polar bear as threatened under ESA as a result of global warming, saying it would take up to a month more to reach the decision. That could put the listing decision after the sale of oil drilling rights in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. The Chukchi Sea is a sensitive polar bear habitat, and the oil drilling area up for sale overlaps major parts of the polar bears’ essential habitat. The legislation proposed by Markey would require that the Interior Department delay the oil drilling rights sale in the Chukchi Sea until it had made a decision on the polar bear, and had performed its responsibility of establishing a “critical habitat” for the polar bear.
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