Kempthorne: Polar Bear 'Threatened' By Decline of Arctic Sea Ice, But Drilling Can Continue 2

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 15 May 2008 12:16:00 GMT

Originally posted at the Wonk Room.

After years of delay, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne made a landmark decision on whether global warming pollution is regulated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Kempthorne ruled that the polar bear should be classified as a “threatened species” due to the decline of polar sea ice, critical to its survival. Kempthorne stated:

They are likely to become endangered in the near future.

The Department of Interior, under Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, fought for several years in the courts since 2005 to avoid making a decision on whether the precipitous decline in Arctic sea ice due to global warming is making the polar bear an endangered species. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall testified in January that there was no significant scientific uncertainty in the endangerment posed by global warming to polar bears—the only legal justification under the Endangered Species Act for a delay.

Kempthone’s decision to follow the science is in marked contrast to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson’s action to override his staff in refusing to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.

However, Kempthorne also argued vigorously that his decison does not compel the Bush administration to construct a plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, repeating President Bush’s entirely spurious claim that would be a “wholly inappropriate use” of the Endangered Species Act. The Interior news release announces, “Rule will allow continuation of vital energy production in Alaska.” Kempthorne claimed that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) is “more stringent” than the ESA, despite the court ruling that compelled him to make today’s ruling stating that “the protections afforded under the ESA far surpass those provided by the MMPA.”

Despite his protestations, Kempthorne’s decision clearly calls into question the legality of the sale of oil and gas drilling rights in polar bear habitat on February 6, while the polar bear decision was being illegally delayed.

Kempthorne complained that the Endangered Species Act is “one of the most inflexible” pieces of legislation because it didn’t allow him to consider economic impacts when protecting species like the polar bear from extinction.

From the Department of Interior press release on the 368-page rule:
To make sure the ESA is not misused to regulate global climate change, Kempthorne promised the following actions:
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a 4(d) rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the ESA with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.
  • Director Hall will issue guidance to staff that the best scientific data available today cannot make a causal connection between harm to listed species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, or resource development project or government action.
  • The Department will issue a Solicitor’s Opinion further clarifying these points.
  • The Department will propose common sense modifications to the existing ESA regulatory language to prevent abuse of this listing to erect a back-door climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability.

Andy Revkin at Dot Earth concludes, “So this leaves everything as it was, in a way, with the bears facing a transforming ecosystem and environmentalists successful in their litigation, but not necessarily empowered by the listing.” At Climate Progress Joe Romm calls the decision “bye-polar disorder.”

Sierra Club spokesman Josh Dorner tells the Wonk Room, “This is the regulatory equivalent of a signing statement—only this one gets to be challenged in court.”

The Impact of Increasing Gas Prices on Small Businesses 3

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 09 Apr 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Witnesses
  • Tim Williford, Chairman Government Affairs Committee, Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association (PHCC)
  • Gary Gilberti, Chesapeake Rehab Equipment
  • John Urbanchuk, Director, LECG, LLC
  • Michael J. Graff, President & CEO Graff Trucking, Inc.
  • Vincent F. Orza, Jr., Dean, Meinders School of Business, Oklahoma City University

The Listing Decision for the Polar Bear Under the Endangered Species Act 3

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 02 Apr 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Dirk Kempthorne has not confirmed attendance.

Witnesses
  • The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior (INVITED)
  • Dr. Douglas B. Inkley, Senior Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
  • Kassie R. Siegel, Director of the Climate, Air, and Energy Program, Center for Biological Diversity
  • William P. Horn Esq., Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot

Getting Royalties Right: Recent Recommendations for Improving the Federal Oil & Gas Royalty System 4

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 11 Mar 2008 14:00:00 GMT

The Subcommittee will review recommendations from policy experts, the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector General’s office for improving the Federal oil and gas royalty system in light of the recent report to the Minerals Management Service’s Royalty Policy Committee entitled “Mineral Revenue Collection from Federal and Indian Lands and the Outer Continental Shelf.”

Witnesses

Panel 1

  • Mr. Earl Devaney, Inspector General, Department of the Interior
  • Mr. David Deal, Vice Chair, Royalty Policy Committee, Department of the Interior
  • Mr. Frank Rusco, Acting Director, Natural Resources and Environment, General Accounting Office
Panel 2
  • Hon. C. Stephen Allred, Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals Management, Department of the Interior
  • Mr. Randall Luthi, Director, Minerals Management Service
  • Mr. Larry Finfer, Deputy Director, Office of Policy Analysis, Department of the Interior
  • Ms. Linda Stiff, Acting Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service
  • Mr. Dennis Roller, Royalty Audit Section Manager, Office of the State Auditor, North Dakota

Department of Interior’s oil, gas and mineral revenue programs 5

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 26 Feb 2008 15:00:00 GMT

At the hearing, Chairman Feinstein will call for passage of legislation she has sponsored to close a loophole that has allowed oil and gas companies to pay no royalty payments for drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf for leases negotiated in 1998 and 1999. This measure to close the loophole was stripped from the FY2008 Interior Appropriations bill.

Under this provision, the companies who have not renegotiated their existing contracts will have a choice.

  • They can keep their existing leases royalty-free if they so choose, but be barred from bidding on new contracts, or
  • They can agree to renegotiate these leases in good faith and be able to participate in the bidding for new leases.
Witnesses
  • C. Stephen Allred, Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, Department of the Interior
  • Randall Luthi, Director, Minerals Management Service

Luthi Before Interior Appropriations Tomorrow 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 26 Feb 2008 01:19:00 GMT

Randall Luthi, the controversial chief of the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service, will be testifying at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee tomorrow morning. His decision to hold the Chukchi Sea drilling lease sale two weeks ago, the first offshore sale in over a decade, while the Fish & Wildlife Service continues to delay its ruling on the endangerment of polar bears, has garnered protests from government scientists, environmental groups and Congressional Democrats.

Sen. Feinstein, the chair of the subcommittee, released the following statement:
At the hearing, Chairman Feinstein will call for passage of legislation she has sponsored to close a loophole that has allowed oil and gas companies to pay no royalty payments for drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf for leases negotiated in 1998 and 1999. This measure to close the loophole was stripped from the FY2008 Interior Appropriations bill.

Feinstein has been pushing for this legislation at least since 2006, since the loophole in 1998 and 1999 leases issued under the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act of 1995 was discussed in Congressional hearings.

ExxonMobil Stands to Profit Handsomely in International Carbon Markets 4

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 20 Feb 2008 00:38:00 GMT

ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company by both revenue and market capitalization, has a place on the world stage comparable to a major nation-state (only 23 nations in 2006 had a GDP greater than Exxon’s revenues of $347 billion, which rose 7% in 2007). Only 31 nations exceeded its annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2004 [UN MDG indicators, ExxonMobil CDP response]. If end-use emissions of ExxonMobil’s products are included, its carbon footprint of 1 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent is exceeded only by five nations.

David Sassoon at Solve Climate asked Mario Lopez-Alcala, a senior analyst with Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, to estimate how the Kyoto Protocol impacts the company. Lopez-Alcala made some counter-intuitive discoveries.
Turns out that under Kyoto, Exxon is responsible for abating only 9 million out of the 138 million tons of its carbon footprint—about 6.9% of its absolute exposure. Mario arrived at this figure by compiling a weighted average of the emissions targets affecting all Exxon operations around the world. His estimate for what it costs Exxon to abate those emissions, assuming it had to purchase carbon credits? About $1 billion a year. (He calculated net present value for the 2008-2012 Kyoto compliance period and applied a standard oil industry discount rate to arrive at the figure, based on an expected price of $28 per ton of carbon. He also had to add in to the calculation, abatement costs for reducing emissions to a baseline year.)

$1 billion annually is not a terribly large liability for a $400 billion company.

Furthermore:
There’s also another aspect to Exxon’s carbon footprint: the 129 million tons of emissions that it is not required to reduce. It is an enormous carbon asset in a world in which carbon has a price, and it presents a tangible opportunity for enhancing profitability – even beyond $40.6 billion. By reducing those emissions – most simply through reduced flaring, co-generation, heat recuperation, and carbon capture and sequestration – Exxon could reap profits from selling carbon credits it generates. Mario reports that BP is the leader in the sector in taking advantage of these opportunities, which are tangible and positive already.

Sassoon concludes that from an investor (as well as moral) standpoint, ExxonMobil’s storied resistance to the science of climate change is a poor corporate position.

Polar Bear Fate Heats Up 8

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 30 Jan 2008 23:05:00 GMT

Senate Hearing

In today’s Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s now-illegal delay in ruling whether polar bears are an endangered species, Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.) sharply rebuked the FWS director Dale Hall. She noted that the Alaska field office sent a recommended decision to Hall on December 14th of last year. Hall refused to discuss the recommendation, saying it would be “inappropriate” to discuss internal deliberations.

Hall gave as his only reason for the delay past the January 8 deadline the need to present a “high-quality” decision that responds in full to the voluminous public comments received. He stated that there was no significant scientific uncertainty in the endangerment posed by global warming to polar bears, the only reason for delay the Endangered Species Act permits. Under repeated questioning from Sens. Boxer and Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Hall said he wanted to present a decision, if possible, by February 6th.

Hall noted that in many ways the Marine Mammals Protection Act provides stronger protection than the Endangered Species Act for polar bears even if a finding of endangerment were made – a claim criticized by Andrew Wetzler of NRDC, who noted that the MMPA does nothing to protect critical habitat, the matter which would affect the planned sale of drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea.

MMS Speaks

On that front, Ben Gemen reports for E&E News that Minerals Managment Service director Randall Luthi said any delay of the scheduled February 6 sale of Chukchi Sea leases would prevent any oil-and-gas exploration in 2008. However, he also stated that the agency position is that:
there is no need for a delay, regardless of what FWS decides. He said that even in the absence of a listing, energy development is accompanied by several layers of environmental review and safeguards, including collaboration with FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Kerry Moves to Block

Meanwhile, Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation yesterday that would block lease sales in the Arctic until Endangered Species Act decisions are made on the polar bear and its critical habitat, mirroring Rep. Markey’s (D-Mass.) proposed legislation in the House.

Internal Emails Show MMS Staff Outcry

Finally, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has released over the past week communications from MMS scientists pleading with the political appointees to delay the lease sale (contrary to Luthi’s January 17th testimony) and DOI directives forbidding MMS scientists to consider the possible threat of invasive species from opening the seas to drilling.

The threats and protections for the polar bear

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 30 Jan 2008 15:00:00 GMT

Witnesses

Panel I
  • FWS Director Dale Hall
Panel II
  • Andrew Wetzler, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Margaret Williams, World Wildlife Fund
  • Brendan Kelly, University of Alaska
  • Richard Glenn, Alaskan Arctic resident and sea ice geologist
  • J. Scott Armstrong, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School

Barrasso Once protection for the polar bear is finalized, agencies will be required by law to avoid jeopardizing the species. And the only way to do so is to reduce emissions.

10:22 Lieberman These species have inherent value. If I may go on a moment I was raised in a tradition, it says in the Bible that Adam and Eve have a responsibility to both work and protect the Garden and all that’s in it. We heard in a hearing nearly a year ago quite a remarkable accumulation of testimony. Mr. Hall identified a warming climate and the melting of sea ice as the primary reason polar bears are threatened as a species. 2/3 of the world’s polar bear population could be lost by the middle of the century. That could be a conservative projection. Some are troubled by the coincidence between the delay and the drilling leases.

10:28 Craig I’m just beginning to acquaint myself with this issue. I understand the climate change movement, the emotion involved in all of that, it’s difficult to predict the future. I’ve watched as various organizations have used the ESA as a wedge or a sledgehammer to shape human activities. I’m here to listen. I hope we don’t rush to judgment. History will only say, was it us, or was it Mother Nature? That is still an open question.

10:32 Mr. Hall We reopened and extended the comment period to allow the public to respond to the new USGS research. We expect to present a final decision to Sec. Kempthorne in the very near future. It is important to recognize that the polar bear is protected under several acts and treaties.

10:36 Boxer Did your staff present a recommendation to you?

Hall Yes. I’m working to the proper modes to explain all the questions. It’s not just making the decision, it’s the Congress and public being able to understand. This delay is my responsibility.

Boxer I wouldn’t want that responsibility to be on my shoulders. Look at Mr. Johnson. He hasn’t given one ounce of paperwork to justify his decision. So there’s a precedent. According to Bruce Woods the completed decision from the Alaska field office was sent to HQ December 14th. What was the recommendation?

Hall It would inappropriate for me to discuss internal deliberations.

Boxer You do understand there is a lease sale?

Hall Yes.

Boxer Am I correct that you have not filed a notice for a delay due to significant scientific uncertainty?

Hall I delayed to get all the information together. The quality of the answer is important. We owe those public comments to be responded to.

Hall The vast majority of the public comments supported the science that would support a listing.

We did not believe that there was ample scientific disagreement to warrant using that clause of the Act.

Boxer Have you been in communication with anyone at the White House about the decision?

Hall No, ma’am. I notified the Secretary and the Secretary notified the President.

Boxer I hope you would reconsider this.

Hall I do not take this lightly. But I am committed to getting a high quality decision out there. I don’t want to overpush our staff.

Boxer Can you do it before February 6?

Hall That was our projected date. We’re pushing to get there.

Boxer If you need some staff assistants, we would help you. It would mean a lot to me.

Hall Our staff has worked very hard.

10:52 Lautenberg Did you say February 6 is not possible?

Hall No, we’re trying to make that goal.

Lautenberg Why don’t you make the recommendation that no driling should take place?

Hall It’s a lease sale exercise. Under that exercise our staff in Alaska did work with MMS.

Lautenberg You’re a person of some significant respect in the environmental community. You understand what you’re doing will make a difference how we approach the leases. We need your help to protect the situation.

Barrasso questioning.

11:00 Hall I don’t believe it’s possible for us to meet the legal standard to reach take for emissions done somewhere else on the globe. Right now the greenhouse gas discussions are from all sources. To be able to track something from the action to the effect we have to have the science that makes the bridge. We can’t get there today. When you reach into CAFE standards and industry and our homes we don’t know how to make that responsible for the loss of polar bears. That is the requirement under the law.

11:02 Lieberman You’re a life FWS person. Did you view the USGS survey as credible?

Hall We do. The conclusion was that 2/3 of the habitat they need would be gone.

Lieberman If polar bears are declared endangered, how would that affect the Chukchi lease sale?

Hall There would be a Section 7 consultation. If the lease sales went forward, then the next steps would be industry proposals and then we would consult under the laws.

Section 7 consultation says that no agency take action that may jeopardize the continued existence of a species.

Lieberman The MMS admits between 750-1000 oil spills are likely due to this lease sale. I believe the greatest threat is ice loss. But this is also a source of danger. Would you agree?

Hall Yes, I do.

11:07 Craig This is one senator who’s not going to tell you to rush the science. Take your time. Get the science right. I don’t want you to rush it to stop a lease sale. Some senators want to use this as a blocking tactic. There’s a process.

11:10 Klobuchar I must say I’m concerned. The first petition was made in February 2005.

Hall The standards for ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act are very close. If it were listed under the ESA one of the first things we’d want to do is synchronize the ESA and MMPA actions.

I firmly believe we should consider the Arctic as an ecosystem. There will be winners and losers.

Warner I believe the polar bear should be listed as endangered.

11:52 Wetzler There is nothing in the MMPA that requires that critical habitat be protected as there is in the ESA.

Rep. Markey Introduces Bill to Block Alaska Drilling Pending Polar Bear Decision 5

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 17 Jan 2008 21:14:00 GMT

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has released the text of legislation which, if enacted, would forbid the sale of off-shore drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea, which includes polar bear habitat, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes its long-delayed determination whether the polar bear is endangered and what its critical habitat is.

At today’s hearing, FWS director Dale Hill made it clear that he recognizes that the polar bear is definitely losing habitat and has been delaying his determination to make it “clear”; he also stated, “We need to do something about climate change starting yesterday.”

Minerals Management Service Director Randall Luthi admitted that if the lease auction goes forward, it would be impossible to revoke the leases even if they are found to be in conflict with a later endangerment listing of the polar bear.