Energy & Environment

Conservation group moves to sue Biden administration alleging failure to protect polar bears

The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Interior Department, alleging it has not properly protected polar bears from encroachment on their habitat by the oil industry.

Oil company 88 Energy received approval from the outgoing Trump administration for its five-year Peregrine Exploration Program, an oil and gas exploration project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. The Biden administration would still have to sign off on the drilling of new wells.

The project would involve extensive noise pollution in polar bear habitats, according to the environmental organization. This includes construction of air strips and roads and “nearly constant” traffic on roads and airways, according to the notice.

The notice of intent, which names both the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is required 60 days ahead of a formal lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act.

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project, meanwhile, would also directly affect the bears’ habitat by contributing to the melting of Arctic sea ice. The notice cites one study indicating that each metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions equates to the loss of some three square meters of September Arctic sea ice.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Interior Department is required to analyze risks to endangered species before signing off on such activity, the organization said, and legal precedent holds that the federal government is responsible for harms incurred from activities it approved.

“At the very least, before allowing any additional activity under the Peregrine Exploration Plan to occur, BLM must engage in formal [Endangered Species Act] consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to carefully analyze the impacts of such activities on polar bears and must ensure that the proper take authorizations are in place,” the notice of intent states. “Failure to do so would constitute a gross dereliction of the agency’s legal obligations and deprive polar bears of vitally important protections.”

The Hill has reached out to the Interior Department for comment.

Tags Endangered Species Act Lawsuit Oil and gas industry polar bear

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