Interior Secretary no-show at Senate Polar Bear Hearing


The Bush Administration's Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, was a no-show at last Wednesday's Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee hearing, chaired by Barbara Boxer, on the listing of the polar bear as an endangered species.
"This listing is months overdue, in violation of the Endangered Species Act," the California Democrat said at the hearing of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee.

The deadline for a decision was Jan. 9. Conservation groups petitioned to list polar bears as threatened more than three years ago because their habitat, sea ice, is shrinking from global warming.

In a letter to Boxer, Kempthorne said he "respectfully" declined her invitation to appear at the hearing, since he is a named defendant in a lawsuit over the polar bear listing filed by an environmental group.
The hearing did receive testimony from witnesses on climate change projections, emissions, and the potential for oil spills to further impact the polar bear's ability to survive amidst declining sea ice due to warming.

Critics to listing the polar bear as an endangered species include the Interior Department, after its subsidiary, the Fish and Wildlife Service, requested it be added on January 7, 2008. The Interior Department raised the concern that the Fish and Wildlife Service does not have the resources to handle the duties that would arise with the change in designation. Other critics, according to this
MSNBC article, have raised a more direct concern that listing the polar bear would limit oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
"It's a professional wildlife agency, not an air-regulating agency," said William Horn, an attorney and former assistant Interior secretary for Fish and Wildlife in the Reagan administration.
To which, Senator Boxer replied: "...sadly, despite the peer-reviewed scientific evidence; despite the opinions of scientists in our own government; despite the fact that we have a strong, successful law to protect imperiled species — the Endangered Species Act — the Bush Administration continues to break the law by failing to make a final decision to list the polar bear."