Conservation groups turn to the court to save polar bears

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Lawsuit seeks to protect polar bears from oil drilling

Environment America

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Department of Interior Thursday, challenging a new regulation that allows oil and gas companies to pursue drilling despite the risks of injury and death to polar bears. 

The rule, known as an “incidental take” regulation, was in response to a request from the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. As written, it allows oil and gas operators in Alaska to harm polar bears and walruses in the Beaufort Sea and on the North Slope during a range of oil and gas activities, including exploration, construction, extraction and transportation. 

The law firm Trustees for Alaska filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven groups and represents five clients in the case: the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment America and the Sierra Club, which also represents itself. The Trustees law firm is co-counseling with the Center for Biological Diversity, which is representing itself and Friends of the Earth.    

Statement from Steve Blackledge, Environment America’s Senior Conservation Program Director: 

“Polar bears are already struggling to simply survive. When new oil drilling proposals further threaten these majestic animals, it’s critical that we hold federal agencies accountable to the laws intended to ensure their survival. Extinction, after all, can’t be rectified. 

“Simply put, polar bears and oil drilling do not mix. We sincerely hope that the courts will examine the facts on the ground and force the government back to the drawing board. As written, the current regulation falls short of protecting the polar bears of Arctic Alaska.”