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Oil Industry Fights|USA Over Polar Bears

ANCHORAGE (CN) - There's plenty of polar bears up north, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association says in challenging the Secretary of the Interior's protection of habitat for North America's largest land mammal.

The trade group claims the habitat protection is "arbitrary and capricious" because more than 20,000 polar bears still live in their "entire historical range."

The trade group claims the Interior Secretary's designation of critical habitat for the big bears, under the Endangered Species Act, violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

The co-defendant U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service set aside "187,157 square miles of terrestrial lands and the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf ... as 'essential' to the conservation of the polar bear," the Oil and Gas Association says.

It objects, because the protected area is bigger than any single state, except Alaska or Texas: "This critical habitat designation is unprecedented not only because it is the largest area set aside in the history of the ESA, but also because the designation arises in the context of an abundant species (20,000 - 25,000 polar bears in 19 recognized subpopulations) that occupies its entire historical range."

The oil and gas group claims the designation violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Endangered Species Act. It claims the defendants "failed to balance the conservation benefits and the economic efforts to exclude areas where the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such areas as part of the critical habitat."

And it claims that the defendants did not act upon "the best scientific data available."

It wants the Final Rule vacated, plus court costs.

The oil and gas industry is represented by Jeffrey Leppo with Stoel Rives, of Seattle.

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