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Trump official delays polar bear study with potential implications on drilling: report

Trump official delays polar bear study with potential implications on drilling: report
© Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson Churchill Manitoba

A top official at the Interior Department has slowed the release of a study on the number of polar bears that give birth on land overlapping an area recently opened to oil and gas drilling, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The study has been ready for at least three months, but has been held up by U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly, The Post reported, noting that Reilly has raised questions about it, including why it uses data from a former scientist and why polar bear dens aren’t counted individually. 

The study reportedly looks at the number of bears that give birth in an area near the southern Beaufort Sea, which is part of an area the administration has moved toward opening up for oil and gas drilling

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The Post reported that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to use the study in determining if drilling can proceed ahead of the approval of a $3 billion drilling project on the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska (NPR-A), but that Reilly has questioned why it needs a “published version of this report.”

The study also reportedly found that 34 percent of polar bear dens are located within the coastal plain area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which the administration has also separately opened for drilling in its entirety. 

Both drilling at ANWR and NPR-A are among dozens of projects that were recently fast-tracked, benefitting from a June order from President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE waiving environmental reviews to speed construction. 

The U.S. Geological Service did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment, but told The Post in a statement that its leadership “routinely reviews and requests additional information on scientific reports to best understand the technical data of key references that are used in the model conclusions.”

“This is a longstanding practice to review scientific reports prior to publication to verify the strength of the science presented,” the agency said. “Our scientists are working to address requests for additional information.”

However, an official, speaking anonymously, told the newspaper that the slowdown was “unprecedented” and problematic. 

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The reported move follows another controversial administration action involving polar bear studies and the department’s advancement of drilling in Alaska. 

In February, the Fish and Wildlife Service opened a study up for public comment, which critics characterized as an attempt to undermine science. 

And Reilly himself has previously faced scrutiny over his treatment of science, particularly climate science. 

Last year he reportedly ordered the Geological Survey to limit its climate models to just 21 years away and also reportedly removed mentions of climate change from agency press releases.