August 31, 2008 in Nation/World

Oil, business groups sue over polar bears

By Kari Lydersen Washington Post
 

A raft of litigation

There are at least four federal lawsuits challenging aspects of the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits include the state of Alaska; an industry group including the American Petroleum Institute and National Association of Manufacturers; the Center for Biological Diversity; and the Safari Club International.

The American Petroleum Institute and four other business groups filed suit Thursday against Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall, joining Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s administration in trying to reverse the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species.

On Aug. 4, the state of Alaska filed a lawsuit opposing the polar bear’s listing, arguing that their populations as a whole are stable and that melting sea ice does not pose an imminent threat to their survival. The suit says polar bears have survived warming periods in the past. The federal government has 60 days from the filing date to respond.

One of the plaintiffs in Thursday’s lawsuit, the National Association of Manufacturers, lauded the choice of Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee for reasons including her advocacy of Alaskan oil and gas exploration, which many fear could be affected by the bear’s protected status.

The manufacturers association and the petroleum institute were joined in the lawsuit by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association and the American Iron and Steel Institute. They object to what they call the “Alaska Gap” in relation to the special rule the federal government issued in May in conjunction with the polar bear’s protected status. The rule, meant to prevent the polar bear’s status from being used as a tool for imposing greenhouse gas limits, exempts projects in all states except Alaska from undergoing review in relation to emissions.

NAM Vice President Keith McCoy said the group sees the rule as unfairly subjecting Alaskan industry to greenhouse gas controls and also opening a back door for greenhouse gas regulation nationwide.

“This could significantly curtail oil and gas exploration,” especially on Alaska’s North Slope, he said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit, notes that greenhouse gas emissions worldwide contribute to global warming and says that projects in Alaska should not be subject to special scrutiny because of the polar bear’s status.

Kassie Siegel, climate program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which originally petitioned to list the polar bear as an endangered species in 2005, decried the assertion in the Alaska suit that science does not prove polar bear populations are declining. The center is also suing the federal government, seeking to change the polar bear’s official status from “threatened” to “endangered.”

“The amazing thing about this litigation is that the governor of Alaska is so anti-environmental that she is suing the Bush administration over a claimed overabundance of protections for the polar bear,” Siegel said. “It’s just amazing.”


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