Protect the People, Not Just the Bears
Just when we need it most, more of our domestic oil and gas
may soon be put off-limits due to yet another overreaction to the
fallacy of global warming. Next week the Interior Departmet
will have to decide if it's going to declare polar bears an
endangered species. If it does, more oil will be off
limits, deepening America's dependence on foreign oil and
guaranteeing further surges in the price of gasoline.
The new restrictions on drilling would result from the campaign to
"save the polar bear". But they're not just a
by-product-they're a key motive for that campaign.
The Interior Department is under court order to announce by May 15
whether polar bears will be designated an endangered
species-despite their thriving population-because global warming
supposedly will melt all the ice where they live on off-shore ice
That designation could jeopardize drilling in the bears' oil-rich
habitat, especially including the new lease in the Chukchi Sea area
off Alaska's coast. The U.S. government's Minerals Management
Service estimates we could recover 15 billion barrels of oil from
that lease--which equates to 4-5 years of U.S. oil imports-plus
comparable huge quantities of natural gas. Bidders have
already agreed to pay the U.S. government $2.6 billion just to
explore this area.
So the stakes are high when we ask: are polar bears truly
endangered, or are they just a convenient species for the
environmental groups that have orchestrated a combined lawsuit and
public relations campaign?
The Center for Biological Diversity originated the lawsuit to
declare polar bears as endangered. Their website acknowledges
that their goal is more than protecting the bears from a claimed
threat of global warming. CBD brags they have fought since at
least 2001 to block oil and gas drilling in polar bear habitat, and
claims credit for preventing drilling last year in the Beaufort Sea
area (an area with projected reserves that could replace two years
of foreign oil imports).
Are polar bears supposedly endangered because they are rare?
No. There are an estimated 20,000-25,000 wild polar bears
today, up from an estimated 8,000-10,000 in the late 1960s.
Most of them are in Canada. Just a few days ago, Canada
declined requests to list polar bears as an endangered
species. Canada instead continued the same status it gave the
bears in 1991, a modest ranking of "special concern," one step
below "threatened" and two steps below "endangered."
Indeed, polar bears are so plentiful that Canada and Greenland
allow them to be hunted. Canada has an annual quota
just over 500. Greenland permits a harvest of 150.
But is global warming a new threat to the bears? Not
according to the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, who has led the
formal opposition to listing polar bears as "threatened" or
"endangered." It is rank speculation, she maintains, to claim
that polar region ice caps will be melted by global warming and
wreck the habitat of polar bears. She wrote the Department of
the Interior that a ruling based on such speculation would "open
the floodgates" to never-ending petitions that thousands of species
deserve equal protection.
Environmentalists have made the polar bear "a metaphor in the
highly charged climate change debate," Palin wrote. And she noted
that numerous laws and international agreements already provide
multiple special protections to the bears, without the huge
potential economic damage that the new proposal could bring upon
The governor's comments underscore an ugly aspect of the global
warming/climate change debate, possibly even uglier than the phony
pretense that "all scientists agree" that mankind is wrecking our
What's ugly is the systematic abuse of poorly-drafted
environmental laws and regulations, aided by activist judges and
unchecked by cowering politicians. Under this system, the
opinions of low-level bureaucrats are given deference by the courts
while enormous costs of environmental regulations are
Democratic principles are bypassed when our courts dictate
wholesale and incredibly expensive societal change, all under the
noble pretense of saving us from ourselves.
There's still a way to stop things before they get worse.
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne is the key. He has
the ability to determine that polar bears are not a threatened or
endangered species, and he certainly should do so. That
decision would be a breath of fresh air, which is what
environmental law certainly needs!
It's not unkind to polar bears to give respectful treatment to the
needs of humans. The bears are thriving now, and the supposed
threat is based on over-dramatized claims about the extent of
global warming. Our planet has always gone through cycles of
climate fluctuations, and it always will. We can certainly
bear with it.
Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress
and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage
First appeared on HumanEvents.com