Alaska gov: Interior’s climate-change polar bear decision hinders oil drilling

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) is slamming the Interior Department’s designation of large Arctic regions as “critical habitat” for polar bears threatened by climate change, alleging the decision will slow oil-and-gas drilling.

The designation requires federal agencies to consult with Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before allowing or funding actions that could harm the bear’s northern Alaskan habitat.

“Such consultations are increasingly being misused to challenge responsible resource development,” Parnell said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “This additional layer of regulatory burden will not only slow job creation and economic growth here and for our nation, but will also slow oil and gas exploration efforts.”

The state does not believe the decision was supported by “sound science,” and may mount a legal challenge, according to Parnell’s office.

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced a final decision Wednesday to designate 187,000 square miles of “on-shore barrier islands, denning areas and offshore sea-ice,” for the bears, which were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2008 in response to a lawsuit by environmental groups. Melting sea ice linked to global warming threatens the iconic bears.

Parnell praised some aspects of the critical habitat decision, but called it harmful overall.

“While the state is pleased that the final designation exempted existing U.S. Air Force installations, the communities of Barrow and Kaktovik, and manmade structures from critical habitat, we are disappointed that the State of Alaska was not consulted on its numerous other recommendations and comments submitted to the service. We are especially concerned regarding the limited consideration given to the additional economic information the state provided,” he said.

Parnell’s comments are the latest skirmish in a broader battle with Interior. He alleges Interior is illegally restricting oil exploration off Alaska’s northern coast.

Interior officials prevented Shell Oil from drilling this year. The company is leaning on the Obama administration to allow drilling in the Beaufort Sea to commence in 2011.

Obama administration officials say they are taking the time to ensure sufficient safeguards will accompany Arctic energy development.

Michael Bromwich, Interior’s top offshore drilling regulator, said earlier this month that the department would soon provide more “clarity” about its Artic energy policy.