No Break for Polar Bears on Christmas: Habitat Sacrificed by New Offshore Oil Plan

polar bear photo
Image: The Last Cookie via flickr

First, the Obama administration this week upheld the much-lambasted Bush-era decision to label polar bears as threatened rather than endangered. Then, it opened up critical polar bear habitat to offshore drilling. Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an offshore oil plan as a response to a court ruling that overturned a Bush administration offshore leasing plan because it failed to adequately assess the environmental impact of drilling off Alaska's Arctic coast, according to the Center of Biological Diversity. The plan reaffirms a 2008 lease sale in the Chukchi Sea, critical habitat for the polar bear.

A separate ruling earlier in the year by an Alaskan court found the environmental analysis behind the Chukchi Sea arrangement to be unlawful.

More from CBD:

Oil development in the Chukchi Sea, home to America's polar bears, remains a dangerous proposition because no technologies exist to clean up oil spills in icy waters...

The Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations filed a court challenge to the 2007-2012 offshore oil leasing plan issued by the Bush administration. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia set aside that plan for failing to adequately assess the environmental impacts of opening up areas off Alaska to drilling. Today's announcement comes in response to that ruling.

"Secretary Salazar has apparently learned nothing from either the Gulf spill or the courts. No matter how many times the courts overturn his decisions to open the Arctic to oil, he comes back with the exact same decision," said Cummings [senior counsel at the center].

Cummings continued, "Given the lack of clean-up technology for an oil spill in the Arctic, Salazar's decision to move forward with the Chukchi leases demonstrates that all the promised reforms following the Gulf spill ultimately mean nothing for the Arctic."

As for the decision regarding the "threatened" status of the polar bear, Andrew Wetzler of NRDC had this to say: "I guess if a wrecking ball is barreling down on your house, you are just 'threatened' might change course."

More on polar bears
Melting Ice Increasing the Chance of Polar Bear-Human Meet-Ups
Global Warming Not the Only Thing Threatening Polar Bears
120 Million Acres of Alaska Coast Declared Critical Polar Bear Habitat

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