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article imagePolar Bears: Obama administration designates 'critical habitat'

By Kay Mathews     Oct 22, 2009 in Environment
As a result of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, the Obama administration has designated a large portion of the Alaskan coastline as a "critical habitat" for polar bears. Oil and gas drilling will be restricted; yet, Shell Oil given green light.
The Guardian reports that the Obama administration has "added a layer of protection for polar bear today, setting aside 200,000 square miles of Alaskan coastline and waters as their 'critical habitat.'"
The decision restricts gas and oil drilling along Alaska's north coast, and, due to the "critical habitat" designation, government agencies are barred from authorizing activities that "could hurt recovering species."
According to the Guardian, the decision is part of a "partial settlement of a law suit brought by environmentalists."
Brendan Cummings, a lawyer for the Centre for Biological Diversity, one of three environmental organizations which brought the suit, was quoted by the Guardian as saying:
If polar bears are to survive in a rapidly melting Arctic, we need to protect their critical habitat, not turn it into a polluted industrial zone. The interior department is schizophrenic, declaring its intent to protect polar bear habitat in the Arctic yet simultaneously sacrificing the habitat to feed our unsustainable addiction to oil.
Cummings' criticism is of the Interior Department's decision to allow Shell to begin exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea. That area is home to endangered bowhead whales, seals, walruses and polar bears.
As reported by's Ryan Edward Fritz, the "U.S. Mineral Management Services (MMS) has given Shell Oil Co. the green light to drill for oil and natural gas deposits about 20 miles off the northern coastline of Alaska, near Point Thomson, in the 'environmentally sensitive' Beaufort Sea."
The Obama administration has until June to finalize the habitat plan.
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