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December 23, 2010
6:58 PM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity

Brendan Cummings, (760) 366-2232 x 304

New Obama Offshore Oil Plan Sacrifices Polar Bear Habitat

WASHINGTON - December 23 - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today issued a revised offshore oil plan that will allow drilling in the heart of polar bear habitat in Alaska. Salazar's announcement, which came in response to a previous court ruling, finalized a revised 2007-2012 nationwide offshore oil leasing plan. The previous plan, issued under the Bush administration, had been overturned by a federal appeals court for failing to properly analyze impacts of drilling off the Arctic coast of Alaska. Salazar's new plan reaffirms a 2008 lease sale in polar bear critical habitat in the Chukchi Sea.

"Once again Secretary Salazar has placed political expediency over sound science and the rule of law, and polar bears and other arctic species will suffer for it," said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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. Today's plan upholds the sale of leases in the Chukchi.

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. A court in Alaska also separately ruled this year that the environmental analysis underlying the lease sale in the Chukchi Sea was unlawful.

"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. "This year in the Gulf of Mexico we saw the damage that a massive oil spill can cause. 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."

In a separate but related development, also in response to a court order, Salazar announced on Wednesday he would uphold a Bush-era decision to list polar bears as merely "threatened," rather than the more protective status of "endangered." Such a move allows Salazar to exempt greenhouse gas polluters nationwide, as well as oil companies operating in polar bear habitat, from some of the Endangered Species Act's most protective provisions.

"This week Secretary Salazar has delivered a double-barreled blast to the future of the polar bear," said Cummings. "At this rate Secretary Salazar will be writing the polar bear's obituary rather than its recovery plan."

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.


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