Today the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the Interior Department’s delay in deciding whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Since the polar bear is an immensely popular megafauna, environmentalists hope that an endangered species listing for the bear could serve as the final nail in the coffin for any energy exploration and development in the Arctic. While the loss of energy development in these lands can only drive energy prices up further, higher gas prices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic costs of a polar bear listing.
Unlike all other past ESA listings, the scientific case for the polar bear’s claimed move to extinction does not hinge on local threats to its habitat. Instead, environmentalists are claiming that global warming is the reason some computer simulations predict polar bears might go extinct by 2030. The legal and subsequent economic implications of listing a polar bear under this theory literally know no bounds. Section 7 of the ESA requires all federal agencies to consult with either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) for “any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency.” The FWS or NMFS then must decide whether the proposed government action would jeopardize the species. If the FWS or NMFS find the government action would jeopardize the species, then it must propose a “reasonable and prudent alternative.”
Since carbon emissions are the cause of global warming, this means that every government action that could plausibly be argued to increase carbon emissions would require review by the FWS or NMFS. Every bridge repaired, every highway built and every permit issued by every government agency could be brought to a screeching halt by environmental groups in federal court. If you doubt the power of the ESA to stop any government action, no matter what the economic benefit, consider the Tellico Dam and a fish called the snail darter. Despite $53 million already invested in the project, a federal court stopped construction of the dam when the snail darter was listed as endangered. It took a special act of Congress to override the ESA and complete the dam.
Unless Congress plans to individually approve every federal government action that might increase carbon emissions, it really ought to rethink the entire ESA framework. P.J. O’Rourke once reduced all budgetary issues to the question: “Would I kill my kindly, gray-haired mother for this?” Since an endangered species listing for the polar bear will put the entire U.S. economy at the mercy of environmental activists and federal judges, it is only fair to also ask: “Would you kill your mother to save the polar bear?” We hope not.
- The Department of Homeland Security announced plans to waive federal and state environmental laws to finish 670 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year.
- Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey told the Senate yesterday that the Saudi government had not taken important steps to go after those who finance terrorist organizations and that Saudi Arabia remains the world’s leading source of money for al Qaeda and other extremist networks.
- Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is threatening “to close the Senate down” unless the chamber begins to vote on President Bush’s appeals-court nominees.
- Afghan officials plan to ask NATO for funds so they can increase their national army by 40%.