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The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming addressed our nation's energy, economic and national security challenges during the 110th and 111th Congresses.

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Markey: Today's Oil Lease Sale Embroils Government in Potential Legal, Economic Troubles


Contact: Select Committee, 202-225-4081

Markey: Today’s Oil Lease Sale Embroils Government in Potential Legal, Economic Troubles

Interior Dept. Giveaway of Polar Bear Habitat Could Stick American Taxpayers With Huge Tab

WASHINGTON (February 6, 2008) – Today in Anchorage, Alaska, the Interior Department held an oil lease sale for the frozen waters off Alaska’s coast--an area home to half of America’s polar bears--before coming to a conclusion on the fate of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming received today, the Interior Dept. said that the agency would re-examine oil lease sale “activities” if the polar bear is listed under the ESA after today’s oil rights sale.

To read the letter from the Interior CLICK HERE.

Chairman Markey decried the decision to proceed with leasing today, saying the Interior Dept. has opened up the U.S. Government to unnecessary legal and economic vulnerabilities by signing and sealing contracts with oil companies that may need alterations after the polar bear decision is finally reached. If the contracts have to later be altered or amended due to polar bear protection requirements, oil companies could sue for abrogation of contract, or the government could have to buy back oil leases--with potential damages or compensation for oil companies—both creating legal and monetary headaches paid for by the American taxpayer.

“Signing on the dotted line with oil companies before creating clear lines of protection for the polar bear will only lead to litigation, oil company compensation, and the potential decimation of the polar bear in Alaska,” said Chairman Markey. “Secretary Kempthorne could have avoided this situation by keeping these two decisions in their proper order, but instead chose the potentially rough seas of litigation and oil company compensation.”

The letter sent today by the Interior Dept. says: “Should the FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] issue a decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the ESA after Lease Sale 193, the MMS [Minerals Management Service] would re-initiate consultation with the FWS regarding OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] activities that may affect the polar bear in accordance with the listing rule. Lease activities would be subject to the outcome of those Section 7 [ESA regulation] consultations.”

Limiting oil drilling “activities” could be anything from the need to buy back oil leases to restrictions on seismic exploration activities, leaving the door wide open for multiple legal vulnerabilities for the U.S. government from oil companies already holding oil drilling rights in polar bear habitat. This is the first lease sale in the area since 1991, but the Interior Dept. has still fast-tracked the sale, claiming it could cause a delay in drilling.

“In their haste to sell these Alaskan waters to oil companies, the Bush administration has again not considered the legal ramifications of their decisions,” continued Markey. “Oil companies already receive countless billions in subsidies and tax breaks from the pockets of the American taxpayer, and now this administration’s short-sightedness could cost the American people even more.”

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PLEASE NOTE: The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was created to explore American clean energy solutions that end our reliance on foreign oil and reduce carbon pollution.

The Select Committee was active during the 110th and 111th Congresses. This is an archived version of the website, to ensure that the public has ongoing access to the Select Committee record. This website, including external links, will not be updated after Jan. 3rd, 2010.

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