Editorial: Interior playing games with polar bear
"Although Congress and the courts have largely frustrated the Bush administration’s efforts to open up Alaska to oil and gas drilling, Vice President Dick Cheney and his industry friends remain determined to lock up as many oil and gas leases as they can before the door hits them on the way out. They are certainly not going to let the struggling polar bear stand in their way.

The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service has announced that early next month it will sell oil and gas leases on nearly 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea. Meanwhile, the department’s Fish and Wildlife Service has postponed a long-awaited decision on whether to place this iconic and troubled animal on the list of threatened species.

These two moves are almost certainly, and cynically, related. Listing the polar bear as threatened would trigger a range of protective actions. Delaying that listing gives the Department of Interior just enough time to move ahead with the lease sales without having to deal with the bear while avoiding an embarrassing bureaucratic squabble.

The listing delay was announced on a Sunday night, when few people were paying attention. H. Dale Hall, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the oil companies would have to comply with any eventual listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. But once the companies stake their claims, it would be hard to stop disruptive exploratory drilling. The delay also gives the political appointees at the Interior Department — notorious for meddling with science — time to craft a listing decision that magically excludes the oil companies from having to do much of anything to protect the bear."

Get the Story:
Editorial: Regulatory Games and the Polar Bear (The New York Times 1/15)

Relevant Links:
Interior Department - http://www.doi.gov