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Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR

Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR
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Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against Department of the Interior plans to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR,) arguing the agency wasn’t thorough before concluding that drilling activity wouldn’t harm local polar bears.

A review of the environmental impacts of drilling in the area “makes the unsupportable conclusion that industrializing the entire Coastal Plain—including the most important terrestrial denning habitat for among the most imperiled polar bear population on the planet—will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of the species,” Democratic lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee wrote to Interior in a letter spearheaded by Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanBickering Democrats return with divisions Lobbying world OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes MORE (D-Calif.).

“This fundamentally flawed analysis ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that identifies devastating impacts to polar bears from oil and gas activities," they added.

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The so-called biological opinion produced on the topic came after the department in February made the unusual decision to open its research to public comment. The already peer-reviewed research looked at how seismic activity from the oil and gas industry affects polar bear “denning” as they raise their young cubs.

Environmentalists and scientists raised the alarm, calling it an attempt by the Trump administration to discredit its own government scientists.

“What it looks like to me is they’re giving industry the opportunity to negate the study,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The 2017 tax bill opened the door to drilling in the arctic, something Interior noted in its response.

“Representative Huffman and the other Democrat members who signed this erroneous letter apparently don’t understand that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in 2017 requires an oil and gas leasing program in the Coastal Plain. It would serve them well to have a better, basic understanding of the laws under the jurisdiction of the Committee,” the department said in an email.

A number of major banks, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, have already pledged not to finance any drilling in ANWR.

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The department recently finalized another rule that would allow hunting tactics that make it easier to kill bear cubs and wolf pups in Alaska.

The rule, finalized in June, ends a five-year ban on baiting hibernating bears from their dens, shining a flashlight into wolf dens to cause them to scurry, targeting animals from airplanes or snowmobiles and shooting swimming caribou from boats.

Updated at 3:28 p.m.