Kerry Asks Interior Department to Delay Lease Sale in "Polar Bear Seas"
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrote a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today, asking him to delay a 30 million-acre oil and gas lease sale in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, planned for February 6th, 2008. Kerry was joined by ten other Senators in recommending that the lease sale be delayed until the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announces its final decision regarding the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species. Polar bears are in increasing danger, due to the large-scale melting of the sea ice that makes up the polar bear habitat. This dramatic melting is caused by climate change. Approximately 2,000 polar bears live in the Chukchi Sea.
"The polar bear has become a tragic mascot of the impacts of climate change, but the US government continues to leave it as vulnerable as ever," Sen. Kerry said. "We should be protecting these animals, rather than auctioning off their habitat to the highest bidder. No lease sale should go forward in the Chukchi Sea until the federal government makes a final determination regarding necessary protections for the polar bear and its habitat."
Below is the text of Kerry's letter:
January 16, 2008
Secretary Dirk Kempthorne
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Dear Secretary Kempthorne,
We are writing to express our extreme disappointment at the failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to comply with its legal obligations with respect to polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.
As you know, your decision on the polar bear listing was due on January 9, 2008. Despite the fact that the scientific facts clearly support listing, FWS inexplicably chose to delay the listing decision by one month.
This one-month delay allows the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to issue its first leases for oil and gas development in almost 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea on February 6, 2008, without any consideration of the impacts of that lease activity on the resident polar bear population. This situation is especially troubling since MMS acknowledged in its Final Environmental Impact Statement on Lease Sale 193 that oil and gas development will harass and kill polar bears.
In light of the acknowledged risk to the Chukchi Sea polar bear population, we respectfully but urgently request that you delay Lease Sale 193 until FWS announces its final decision regarding the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species. We strongly believe that it is not appropriate to move forward with a lease sale until critical habitat is designated and MMS complies with the provisions of ESA Section 7 to minimize any further harm to this iconic species.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. Given the urgency of this issue, we look forward to your timely response.
Senator John Kerry
Senator Barbara Boxer
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Senator Joe Lieberman
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Frank Lautenberg
Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Chris Dodd
Senator Bob Menendez
Senator Jack Reed
Senator Patty Murray