House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee

On Thin Ice: The Future of the Polar Bear 3

2175 Rayburn
Thu, 17 Jan 2008 14:30:00 GMT

Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will question members of the Bush Administration regarding the delay of a decision to list polar bears under the Endangered Species Act until after a controversial lease sale for oil drilling off of Alaska. The hearing will also feature experts on wildlife protection and oil drilling.

Earlier this week, the Interior Department announced it would miss the statutory deadline to reach a decision on listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), saying it would take up to a month more to reach the decision. That would put the listing decision one day after the sale of oil drilling rights in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, scheduled for February 6th. The Chukchi Sea is a sensitive polar bear habitat.

In the most thorough study to date, the Interior Department determined that under current trends, disappearing sea ice would result in a two-thirds drop in the world population of polar bears resulting in the disappearance of polar bears from Alaska by 2050.

  • Mr. Dale Hall, Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Mr. Randall Luthi, Director, Minerals Management Service
  • Dr. Steven Amstrup, Polar Bear Team Leader, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Ms. Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President, Defenders of Wildlife
  • Ms. Deborah Williams, President, Alaska Conservation Solutions
  • Ms. Kassie Siegel, Director, Climate, Air and Energy Program, Center for Biological Diversity

10:22 am Sensenbrenner What’s the beef?

10:22 am Inslee The idea that the science isn’t clear on what’s happening in the Arctic is bizarre. The ice is gone. I want to ask a question about oil spills.

Luthi I don’t think we would be doing our jobs if we didn’t consider the possibility of a spill. The history has been different. The companies especially in north Alaska have been responsible.

Inslee If I told you there was a 33-51% chance of being run over a bus I think that would be significant. Your statement said there would be a 33-51% chance of a 1000 barrel oil spill.

Luthi Before the ESA kicks in, or if it does, we have worked with FWS very carefully.

Inslee I believe you are acting in willful ignorance of known science. I believe it is negligent in the extreme. You moved before the ESA determination was made. I find that totally disrespectful of the law.

Luthi What would be different would be one more layer of consultation under the ESA. The protections under the Marine Mammals Act are in many ways more strict.

10:29 Walden Do you have other endangered species listed where there is drilling?

Luthi The eiders, and a whale species I believe.

Walden Have you seen threats to these species or loss of life?

Luthi We have seen no blowouts, very small spills. To my knowledge there has not been a take or harassment of endangered species.

10:34 Larson Doesn’t Rep. Markey’s legislation make sense?

Hall Quite frankly, if I hadn’t made the decision to give ourselves more time it would have worked that way anyway. I’m never comfortable telling people what kind of laws they should pass.

Larson Given the record low summer sea ice this year what are you doing to understand the impact on polar bears?

Amstrup The work that we’ve done suggest that the changes in the sea ice have already negatively impacted the polar bears.

10:44 Hall The burden is on us and the science to determine a direct linkage between the take and the endangerment of the species. The science as it is today, even the IPCC information, would not allow us to segment out this particular set of emissions.

10:46 Cleaver Are you familiar with the USS Arizona? Went down in Pearl Harbor. Have you ever gone there to see the ship on the bottom? Each day when people go over it, the number one tourist attraction in Hawaii, oil is still bubbling up. Sixty years later. I watched it last week and realize the lasting impact of oil spills and what it does to the environment. I’m also wondering, do you think the FWS is strictly dealing with fish and wildlife, or does it get into ideological issues? Is it ideological or scientific or is it a mix of two?

Hall Over my 29 years with the FWS I can speak with some confidence that our employees try to be professional and responsible. As far as being ideological I believe that the vast majority of employees and myself believe we should be advocates for truth.

Cleaver So the polar bears, the habitat has been damaged.

Hall We’ve certainly lost 20%. We know the habitat is leaving us.

Cleaver So what’s the problem?

Hall It’s not just making a decision that’s important. It’s making it clear, and why. When I release a document with my signature.

Cleaver How much more habitat do we need to lose for this to be clear?

Hall We need to do something about climate change starting yesterday. We need to control greenhouse gases.

10:53 Amstrup The declines in sea ice predicted haven’t been as fast as what has actually occured.

Rep. Hall Can we quantify that?

Amstrup Yes.

Rep. Hall My constituents are coming out in overflow crowds to find out what they can do about global warming. We just passed a new energy bill to do some things. There are regional cap-and-trade systems being set up. Your statement that “no matter we do we will rely primarily on coal, oil, and natural gas.”

Luthi That comes from the Energy Information Agency. That’s what they tell us.

Rep. Hall You can draw a graph that project different outcomes depending on different policies we adopt. Do we spend billions of dollars getting oil from unfriendly and dangerous places or do we invest in new technologies?

You’re talking about a potential of $100 billion from a $500 million lease.

Luthi The MMS takes very seriously its responsibility to get fair market value.

11:02 Markey What would be the effect of an oil spill be on polar bears?

Amstrup It would depend on the oil spill, but the effect of oil on polar bears in the wild is to kill them.

Markey Would you object if Sec. Kempthorne decided to allow Mr. Hall to make his decision before you were allowed to make the Chukchi sale?

Luthi He is my boss.

Markey We have political players confronting a scientific decision and the chief decisionmaker is Sec. Kempthorne. All he has to do is say, let’s use common sense, and recognize that extinction is forever, and make that decision before we send the oil and gas companies out. Mr. Kempthorne is to blame. In the end, man can adapt but the bear cannot. When the ice is gone, man cheers for new drilling opportunities, but the bear starves and dies.

11:07 Inslee This could result in a suicide squeeze for the polar bear. If the leases are made before the designation, you cannot terminate the leases legally, can you?

Luthi We cannot terminate the leases, no.

Inslee I can’t believe an agency would issue this document saying there’s a 33-51% chance of a major oil spill not taking into account existing technology.

Hall We update the statistics based on new technology. The data reflects the past history. We used the best available information at the time.

Second Panel

11:18 Siegel There is still time to save the polar bear. A first step is to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. We need to also immediately reduce greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, but also methane and black carbon.

11:21 Williams We must delay the Chukchi lease sale. We must provide funding for polar bear study. We must reduce greenhouse gases. Congress would never make a decision without this kind of information. It is the worst kind of irresponsible.

11:29 Clark There are numerous factors that support listing polar bears under the ESA. Number one is the unequivocal loss of sea ice due to global warming. It would fly in the face of the precautionary principles of the ESA for the Interior to take advantage of its own delay in the listing to develop gas and oil drilling.


Leave a response

  1. Happy Feet Fri, 03 Apr 2009 15:31:31 GMT

    I luv polar bear! Save them

  2. Oh Yeah! Thu, 28 May 2009 18:15:50 GMT


  3. mc Tue, 12 Apr 2011 00:03:46 GMT

    This is really sad how the people of this earth have put our animals in this situation. I’ll hope for the best but expect the worst.