Interior Secretary Attempts To Evade Congressional Oversight On Polar Bears

The multi-year saga of the Bush administration’s fight to avoid recognizing global warming’s threat to the polar bear heated up last week. On Thursday, March 20, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne asking him “to appear before the Committee as soon as possible for an oversight hearing” on the “considerable delays in taking final action” over the Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear. Boxer told him that the hearing would be planned for April 2 or 8.

The following day, Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, faxed back a response at 5:56 PM:

I understand Secretary Kempthorne called you on March 17, 2008, and expressed his commitment to testify before the Committee on the polar bear proposal once a decision is made on the issue. I also understand the Secretary committed to calling you on Tuesday, April 1, 2008, with an update on the progress towards a decision.

Boxer immediately responded, calling the offer of a telephone briefing and a hearing after a decision has been made “wholly inadequate,” and again requested the April 2 or 8 date for a hearing discussing “this serious breach of the Department’s duty to follow the law.”


This fight began in 2005, when the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the polar bear endangered by global warming’s assault on Arctic sea ice. Since then, the administration has violated repeated Endangered Species Act deadlines — the latest this January — when it instead announced it would speed through a multibillion dollar sale of drilling rights in the very same Arctic seas.

It has been nearly a month since Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall — who is under investigation for his part in the delays — stated in a February 28 House Appropriations Committee hearing that his agency had submitted its decision on the polar bear listing to Secretary Kempthorne.