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For Immediate Release, January 17, 2008

Contact: Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, ksiegel@biologicaldiversity.org, (951) 961-7972

Polar Bear Protection Legislation to Be Introduced
Hearing Probes Bush Administration Delay in Protecting Polar Bears
As It Fast-tracks Oil Leasing

WASHINGTON, DC— At today’s hearing before the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Chairman Edward J. Markey announced he is drafting legislation to protect the polar bear from oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea. The bill would require the Minerals Management Service to postpone a scheduled oil and gas lease sale in 46,000 square miles of polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea until after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a final listing determination for the polar bear and designated its critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

“This legislation announced today by Chairman Markey will give polar bears desperately needed protection,” said Kassie Siegel, polar bear expert and director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate, Air and Energy Program, who testified at today’s hearing. “In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we must protect polar bears from direct impacts like oil spills. Chairman Markey and the members of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming have shown inspirational leadership on this issue.”

The new legislation was announced at a hearing this morning probing into the Bush administration’s delay of the decision to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act while expediting oil and gas development in prime polar bear habitat.

On January 9, 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed the legal deadline to issue a final listing decision for the polar bear—a listing deadline prompted by a petition and lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”), and Greenpeace. At the same time, the Minerals Management Service has scheduled oil and gas lease sales for 46,000 square miles of polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea for February 6. Holding the lease sale prior to the listing of the polar bear would mean the leases would be sold prior to review under Endangered Species Act that will be required once the polar bear is listed, and has outraged conservationists and lawmakers alike.

“The only thing keeping pace with the melting of the sea ice is the breakneck speed with which the Department of the Interior is rushing to approve oil and gas activities in polar bear habitat,” said Siegel at today’s hearing. “This oil and gas sale must not proceed, because the impacts to polar bears have not been considered.”


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