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Orlando Sentinel: EDITORIAL: Our position: The imperiled polar bears may be the victims of more gas and oil exploration

February 3, 2008

You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to find who’s responsible for this crime-in-the-making.

By law, the Interior Department was supposed to declare by Jan. 9 whether polar bears should be designated a threatened species.

And signs pointed to their getting that designation: The U.S. Geological Survey in September concluded that two-thirds of the world’s largest land predators would die off because of ice thinning due to global warming. And it was the Interior Department secretary himself who proposed the threatened listing nine months before that, in January 2007.

But January 2008 passed without any decision on the bears’ status. It seems elementary as to why.

A “threatened” designation for the bears could lead to limits being placed on oil and gas exploration and production in their natural habitat. And that wouldn’t sit well with developers looking to drill for oil and gas in a 46,000-square-mile area of the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska, which also happens to be home to one of just two U.S. polar-bear populations.

So while the Interior Department ostensibly continues to consider the threatened designation for the bears well beyond the Jan. 9 deadline, it also is expected to announce on Wednesday that it will open much of the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas leases.

The Bush administration runs the Interior Department. President George W. Bush lately has talked about the importance of battling global warming. But in the Chukchi Sea, Mr. Bush’s devotion to oil, which he says the nation is addicted to, looks to come first?

And the polar bears of the Chukchi Sea, last.

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