Will polar bears block development?
(Note: This one covers all the bases in a clear and succinct manner. It is simply a must-read.)

March 3, 2007

By Paula Easley [email protected]
Anchorage Daily News
Anchorage, Alaska
To submit a Letter to the Editor: [email protected]

Fasten your seat belts, Alaskans. We're in for a rough ride on the energy-production/global-warming/polar bear demise front. I had to watch the Academy Awards last Sunday to see if Al Gore received an Oscar for his global warming documentary. He did, and made an impassioned plea that we walk the walk and talk the talk to reverse the catastrophic effects of human-caused global warming, formerly global cooling.
It turns out Mr. Gore isn't among those making sacrifices, hybrid stretch limousine aside. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research recently examined his energy bills and was surprised to learn he consumed more than 20 times the national average for electricity in 2006.
Last August alone (must have been a scorcher), Mr. Gore's residence used more than twice the electricity that the average American family burns annually. And, between 2005 and 2006, his energy consumption jumped an average 2,200 kWh per month, bringing his gas and electric bills to $2,440, or $30,000 for the year.
Elsewhere, another wealthy politician heats and cools his ranch property with 67-degree Fahrenheit water that is pumped from 300 feet underground, recycled from a cistern and reused for nondrinking purposes (initials GWB).
Alaskans can sympathize with Mr. Gore's energy bills; our natural gas, heating oil, electricity and gasoline costs have skyrocketed, as have all those "energy surcharges." Here in Southcentral, energy costs are pushing some families over the edge, a situation rural Alaskans have long faced. Another year of three percent cost-of-living increases was also bad news locally. January's 30 percent natural gas increase will likely drive the inflation rate even higher for 2007.
It's ironic that Alaskans don't have access to reasonably-priced energy. Yet Mr. Gore and environmentalists continue campaigning to stop oil and gas development in our petroleum-rich state, this time ostensibly over concern for polar bears. They want Congress to limit production of fossil fuels and impose mandatory controls and taxes on carbon emissions; the cost estimates range from $1,154 to $2,700 annually per household.
While Americans generally agree we should do our part to reduce greenhouse gases, most have no clue whatsoever that we personally will have to pay for it. (Ideas always sound better when someone else pays.) Dr. Nicole Haynes McCoy of Utah State University predicts the "sacrifices that will be required of the American public to ... protect polar bear habitat will bring key problems of the ESA (Endangered Species Act) to the forefront of the American consciousness. Once you start asking Americans to pay more for power, transportation and food to maybe save a species that might be in decline, you are asking for trouble."
James Inhofe, a most articulate U. S. senator on global warming politics and the ESA, addressed the polar bear listing in a January floor speech:
"As landowners and businesses have known for decades, when you want to stop a development project or just about any activity, find a species on that land to protect and things slow down or many times stop altogether. ... So in the case of the polar bear listing, oil and gas exploration in Alaska, which accounts for 85 percent of the state's revenue and 25 percent of the nation's domestic oil production, is immediately called into question. Likewise, the state's shipping, highway construction, or fishing activities will also be subject to federal scrutiny under Section 7 (of the ESA)."
Before allowing the country to commit economic suicide over global warming, scientists should be investigating ways to adapt to warming cycles. For the polar bears, why not a North Slope ice making plant that produces giant ice floes for the bears? Developers could even buy ice "credits" to mitigate effects of their projects on greenhouse gas emissions. Or high-flying 747s could release some great gas-busting substance into the stratosphere. Who knows? Technology may well have the answer at far lesser costs.
While Alaska's polar bears are doing just fine, a "threatened" listing is always possible. We should be aware, though, that if critical habitat is designated, any threat to that habitat -- perceived or real -- would result in environmental lawsuits that could potentially kill any project or any industry. Remember the spotted owl.

Paula Easley, an Anchorage public policy consultant, serves on the board of the Resource Development Council.
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Copyright 2007, Anchorage Daily News.