August 6, 2008

Alaska Sues US Over Polar Bear Decision

Alaska filed a lawsuit on Monday against the United States over the placement of polar bears on the threatened species list because such a categorization will hurt Alaskan oil and gas exploration, fisheries and tourism.

The lawsuit seeks the withdrawal of a May 14 decision to place polar bears on the threatened list of the Endangered Species Act due to climate change.

"We believe that the ... decision to list the polar bear was not based on the best scientific and commercial data available," Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said in a statement.

The Arctic is the natural habitat of polar bears, as they depend on ice to hunt for seals. The U.S. Geological Survey reported last year that two-thirds of the world's polar bears -- some 16,000 -- could be gone by 2050 if predictions about melting sea ice hold true.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne acknowledged that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions contributed to the planetary warming that has damaged the polar bears' habitat.

Alaska claims that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider that polar bears have survived through previous warming periods.

The Interior Department had no comment on the pending Alaska lawsuit.

Environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity vowed to seek to have the lawsuit dismissed.

"The state's lawsuit isn't about the science of global warming and polar bears," said Melanie Duchin of Greenpeace USA. "It is merely doing the bidding of oil companies that want to drill for oil in sensitive polar bear habitat, without any concern for how that oil will impact the climate when it's burned."

Alaska maintains that the polar bear population has doubled to as many as 25,000 over the last 40 years as a result of current regulations and conservation programs in Alaska and internationally.

"Additional regulation of the species and its habitat under the Endangered Species Act will deter activities such as commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration and development, transportation and tourism within and off-shore of Alaska," the lawsuit said.