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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 Grills Interior Secretary on Budget, Polar Bears


Contact: Select Committee, 202-225-4081

Markey Grills Interior Secretary on Budget, Polar Bears

Interior’s Budget Cuts Understaffed Endangered Species Program by $3.7 mil, Increases Oil Drilling Division by $10.3 mil

WASHINGTON (February 14, 2008) – In a hearing before the Natural Resources Committee today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) questioned Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s budget priorities in light of his agency’s recent mismanagement of oil drilling and endangered species issues.

After delaying a decision on whether to list the polar bear as threatened by global warming under the Endangered Species Act due to what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall characterized as staff time issues, the Minerals Management Service—also an Interior department agency—went ahead with an oil lease sale within the polar bear’s habitat, on-time and with no staff delays. The lease sale totaled $2.6 billion in bids, a record for an oil drilling lease sale.

“With all the sweetheart deals given to Big Oil, everyday is Valentine’s Day in the Bush administration’s Interior Department,” said Rep. Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

While the polar bear decision has still not been released, even after over a month of delays, the Interior Department budget was released last week. The budget cuts by $3.7 million dollars the FWS Endangered Species program, and increases the MMS budget by more than $10 million, despite the recent performance shortfalls by the ESA program, and apparent efficiencies within the agency’s oil drilling section.

Rep. Markey pointed out these contradictions to Secretary Kempthorne at today’s hearing.

“Secretary Kempthorne, Dale Hall, the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has testified that he did not want to overwork his staff to make a listing decision on the polar bear on time. However, the Minerals Management Service appears to have had plenty of staff in order to conduct a lease sale in sensitive polar bear habitat as scheduled. Why then has the President’s budget request for your Department proposed to cut the Endangered Species budget, which Dale Hall is apparently saying is under-funded, by $3.7 million, while increasing the budget for the Minerals Management Service?” asked Rep. Markey.

Rep. Markey also criticized Secretary Kempthorne for not coordinating the two divisions under his command and protecting the polar bear fully before going ahead with the oil lease sale.

On January 7, 2008, the agency delayed the decision to list the polar bear as threatened by global warming under the Endangered Species Act, and placed a self-imposed new timeline for the decision of 30 additional days from the January 9, 2008 statutory deadline. They missed their new deadline last week, and no decision appears imminent.

The oil lease sale was held, without delay, on February 6, 2008, in Anchorage, AK.

In proceeding with the lease sale ahead of the polar bear decision, 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.

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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