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Polar bears

Polar bears stand on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean. (Photo: Lev Fedoseyev/TASS via Getty Images)

Green Group Launches Suit Over Biden Administration's Failure to Protect Polar Bears From Arctic Drilling

"Polar bears shouldn't have to suffer from yet more noisy, harmful oil drilling. Letting the oil industry ramp up drilling is also fundamentally inconsistent with addressing the climate crisis."

Brett Wilkins

Asserting that "continued oil and gas exploration and development is fundamentally incompatible with polar bear survival and recovery," the Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday launched a lawsuit against the Biden administration for failing to protect the imperiled animals from an oil exploration project in the Western Arctic.

"Every new oil well in the Arctic is another step toward the polar bear's extinction."

"Every new oil well in the Arctic is another step toward the polar bear's extinction," Kristen Monsell, a senior Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) attorney, said in a statement announcing the group's legally required 60-day notice of intent to sue.

Monsell added that President Joe Biden "should be phasing out oil and gas activity in the Arctic, not flouting key environmental laws to let oil companies search and drill for more oil in this beautiful, increasingly fragile ecosystem."

At issue is 88 Energy's Peregrine Exploration Program, a five-year project targeting an area of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska along the Colville River that is currently free from fossil fuel development. The undertaking was approved in the final days of former President Donald Trump's tenure but the Biden administration's approval is required to drill any new wells.

While Biden was praised by climate, environmental, and Indigenous groups for suspending fossil fuel drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in June, the president has come under fire for approving drilling permits at a faster rate than either the Trump or Obama administrations.

CBD's notice of intent—addressed to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Tracy Stone-Manning, and Acting BLM State Director for Alaska Tom Heinlein—accuses BLM of violating Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) "because it is failing to ensure that its authorization and management of activities at 88 Energy's massive Peregrine Exploration Program in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the polar bear... or adversely modify its critical habitat."

"BLM is also in violation of Section 9 of the ESA by permitting and managing these activities without the requisite incidental take authorizations, thereby causing an unauthorized take of an ESA-listed species," the document alleges.

According to the notice:

An overwhelming body of scientific literature confirms that the threats from Arctic climate change and resulting sea ice loss are worsening as global greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

Indeed, range-wide studies project that most of the world's polar bear subpopulations, including the Southern Beaufort Sea population, will go extinct within this century—and as early as midcentury—absent immediate, aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas pollution.

Continued oil and gas activity not only exacerbates the climate crisis, it increases other harms to polar bears through oil spills, physical obstructions, den destruction, and disturbance from noise pollution, among other detrimental impacts.

"The best way to remedy these violations," the notice argues, "would be to order an immediate suspension of operations at 88 Energy's Peregrine Exploration Program and reject the company's application for a permit to drill."

Monsell added that "polar bears shouldn't have to suffer from yet more noisy, harmful oil drilling. Letting the oil industry ramp up drilling is also fundamentally inconsistent with addressing the climate crisis. Arctic drilling has got to go."

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