June 20, 2008 | Commentary on Energy and Environment, Economy

Why Polar Bears and Politics Don't Mix

After months of relentless lobbying, environmentalists had reason to celebrate recently when the Bush administration named the polar bear a "threatened species." Should we join in on the celebration? Not if you're one of the many Americans feeling the pain at the pump because of rising gas prices.

Although New Yorkers are famous for relying on public transportation, the truth is that we're all feeling the effects of high gas prices. Transporting food and produce has become more expensive, for example, so we're paying more every time we walk into a grocery store for milk and eggs. And anyone who's recently tried booking a flight knows how expensive airline tickets have become.

In short, no one is exempt from the rising gas prices, with a gallon of gas now averaging close to $4.

Unfortunately, in Washington it's business as usual. Here, politics takes precedence over common sense. The seemingly harmless decision to cover the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act could have grave economic implications.

Among the dangers: Energy exploration could be banned in large portions of Alaska. As well intentioned as it may be to protect the polar bear, history has shown that placing a species on the endangered list isn't necessarily the best way to help it. And worse yet, many times our economy suffers.

In the early 1990s, the spotted owl of the northwestern U.S. was placed on the endangered species list because many thought loggers were destroying its natural habitat. Only later was it discovered that the more predatory barred owl was actually preying on the spotted owl territory. Unfortunately that revelation came too late, as the logging industry was dealt a severe blow because of a bureaucrats' regulatory decision.

Similarly today, an estimated 15 billion of barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie in the unexplored Alaska frontier. And although this potential oil reserve wouldn't free us dependence on imported oil, it would advance our long-term goal to be oil-independent. Also, it would increase our oil reserves and help reduce gas prices. Sadly, this seems less likely because of the polar bear decision.

Economics aside, the polar bear is an unlikely choice for the list, considering that its global numbers worldwide have risen steadily from an estimated 8,000-10,000 in the 1960s to 20,000-25,000 today, according to the latest numbers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

We all have an obligation to be good stewards of this earth and to do our part to conserve our environment for the sake of our children and grandchildren. What we don't need is the federal government imposing mandates while limiting our ability to explore energy reserves to help drive down energy costs. Let's think twice before we let polar bears drive our nation's politics.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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Related Issues: Energy and Environment, Economy

First appeared in NYC's El Diario