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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: Bush Admin. Polar Bear Decision Ordered by Court


Contact: Select Committee, 202-225-4081

Markey: Bush Admin. Polar Bear Decision Ordered by Court

Question Remains on Finalizing Oil Leases in Bear Habitat

WASHINGTON (April 29, 2008) – The courts instructed the Bush administration today to issue a final decision on the polar bear’s listing under the Endangered Species Act by May 15, 2008, saying the administration had violated the law by missing the deadline for a decision by four months.

“The courts have finally ended the glacial pace of the Bush administration’s response to the imperiled polar bear,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Even after the Interior Department missed the statutory deadline in January, a self-imposed deadline in February, and then two more months of inaction, the agency requested an additional delay, until June 30, 2008, for its lawyers to finish reviewing and revising the decision. Judge Claudia Wilken instead ruled for the plaintiffs — Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace — on all issues and disallowed any further delay.

The decision said: “Defendants offer no specific facts that would justify the existing delay, much less further delay. To allow Defendants more time would violate the mandated listing deadlines under the ESA and congressional intent that time is of the essence in listing threatened species.” Chairman Markey and the Select Committee held a hearing earlier this year on the polar bear decision and Interior’s decision to hold an oil lease sale in essential polar bear habitat before making a decision on the bear.

Now that the decision date is set, the new question is whether the Bush administration will finalize leases from the oil rights sale allowed to go forward, even when the polar bear listing could affect the drilling rights.

On February 6, 2008, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service sold billions of dollars in oil drilling rights to Shell and other oil companies in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska. The agency has 90 days from that date to finalize all the leases, which would be on May 6, 2008, more than a week before the required listing of the polar bear.

The listing of the polar bear, which the science supports, would trigger protections under ESA that could significantly affect oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

“It is imperative that Secretary Kempthorne does not put the rig before the bear,” said Markey. “The Bush administration must suspend all actions on finalizing the Chukchi oil leases until they have determined what protections the polar bear needs in such a vital habitat.”

Polar bears are totally dependent on Arctic sea ice for survival, and the rapid warming of the Earth is destroying their ice habitat. In the most thorough study to date, Interior Department scientists, including the team leader who appeared before the Select Committee, determined that under current trends, disappearing sea ice would result in a two-thirds drop in the world population of polar bears resulting in the disappearance of polar bears from Alaska by 2050. One of the population centers considered under the “greatest” threat is the Chuckchi Sea habitat, according to the study.

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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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