Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic

Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic
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The Trump administration is pushing ahead to greenlight oil exploration in the Arctic, allowing companies to use seismic testing that will disturb polar bears in their dens.

The proposal, if finalized, would allow the oil exploration technique in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to begin as soon as Jan. 21 — the day after President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Five House members meet with Taiwanese president despite Chinese objections Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist MORE takes office. 

There are roughly 900 southern Beaufort Sea polar bears left in the Arctic.

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“On the way out, the Trump administration is still pandering to its oil industry cronies and jamming through an unpopular push to drill in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations at Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement, warning that “polar bear dens are hard to pinpoint in the snowy Arctic.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal would allow “harassment” of polar bears, determining that seismic testing would disturb wildlife in the area, “causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”

The late-filed notice gives the Trump administration little time to take comment and finalize the process before the Biden administration enters, requiring a much-hastened pace over a process that typically lasts several months at a minimum.

“Do they have the ability to rush this out the door? Probably. But is it legal or easily defensible in court? I highly doubt it,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group.

The announcement follows an unusual move by the government to open its own study on the risks to polar bears to public comment.

Experts said it’s highly unusual for any branch of the Interior Department to post one scientific study for comment rather than a body of peer-reviewed research that accompanies a policy decision.

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