Interior Department Suppresses Study on Polar Bears to Plunder Alaska’s Arctic, Then Caves to Pressure

October 7, 2020 | 3:51 pm
Edwin Butter/Shutterstock
Andrew Rosenberg
Former Contributor

We’re in the midst of a global warming crisis, pandemic, a contentious election, and a severe economic downturn. Oil prices are way down due to a market glut and the nation must move toward net zero carbon emissions in order to confront climate change. So why is the Department of the Interior going to extraordinary lengths to open up oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and plunder an additional 17 million acres in Alaska’s central Arctic? And going so far that they tried to bury one of their own studies on polar bear habitat that indicates potential harm to the very survival of a key population of these protected and iconic animals?

The answer is that the decision to allow drilling skirts the law and sidelines science in order to make a wholly political decision. And that’s wrong. Every administration has an opportunity to work toward their policy objectives. They certainly can, and do, turn their political views into action. But only within the laws of the land. Every administration has to abide by ALL of our laws, not just those parts they agree with. Perhaps there are those political appointees that don’t like the Endangered Species Act or the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Too bad! Your job is still to implement that key statute to prevent species extinctions.

So why suppress a scientific study? Because it contains inconvenient, though important, evidence. And all of our environmental statutes require the use of the best science available, whether one likes the answer or not.  In fact, for taking actions like permitting oil drilling in ANWR another of our key laws, the Administrative Procedures Act, mandates a critically important standard that the Department of the Interior must follow—the decision and subsequent action may not be “arbitrary and capricious.” In other words, it must be carefully analyzed, justified and based on scientific evidence, not solely political views or influence.

After it was widely reported that he was holding up the study, US Geological Survey Director James Reilly, a former astronaut, released the peer reviewed study. His rationale for delaying it was that he wanted to be “satisfied” with the science. News flash for Director Reilly: That is what peer review by subject matter experts does.

The Department of the Interior seems hellbent on pushing this decision through to allow drilling, science be damned. That’s why, when they do, UCS will join in a lawsuit led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other partners from native tribes to major environmental groups to fight them every step of the way. Stay tuned. This isn’t over.