(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, this Committee examines threats and protections for one of the most magnificent creatures in the world: the polar bear.
There are an estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears in 19 populations in the Arctic. But scientists are greatly concerned about their future, due to global warming and melting sea ice, which they depend on to hunt and den.
As a matter of fact, in December 2006, George W. Bush’s Interior Secretary, our former Republican colleague, Dirk Kempthorne said: "polar bears’ habitat may literally be melting.”
These pictures help demonstrate this more than Secretary Kempthorne’s or my words ever could.
It is a sad statement on the health of the planet when such a majestic species as the polar bear could be lost due to human activities.
Thankfully, we have an important law to help protect imperiled species—the Endangered Species Act, which helps preserve species and the places they live. For the polar bear, that includes sea ice. And it is literally melting away.
However, in general, the ESA and its protections begin when a species is “listed” as threatened or endangered. Unfortunately, this Administration has utterly failed to do what it is supposed to do to save the polar bear.
Just as it has failed to take the necessary steps to combat global warming.
Oversight is about accountability; it is about seeing whether any Administration -- Democratic or Republican -- is living up to its obligations to the American people and I intend to continue to shine a spotlight on the Administration’s actions.
Director Hall, on some things we agree. On January 17, 2008 you said:
"We need to do something about climate change starting yesterday, and there needs to be a serious effort to look at greenhouse gases."
But sir, with all due respect, you were also supposed to do something about the polar bear yesterday—in fact, you were obligated under the Endangered Species Act to list, or withdraw your proposed listing for the polar bear by no later than January 9, 2008.
The Fish and Wildlife Service got off to a slow start. It was only after being sued by conservation groups that it even began the process of considering whether to list the polar bear.
However, I find it curious that while your agency in the Interior Department is dragging its feet to list the polar bear, another agency in the Interior Department—the Minerals Management Service is charging full speed ahead to allow new oil and gas drilling activities in one of biological hearts of the polar bear’s domain—the Chukchi Sea.
The Chukchi Sea and the neighboring Beaufort Sea are home to nearly 1/5th of the world’s polar bears. Despite this, nearly 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea will likely be opened to oil and gas leasing on February 6th.
Had the polar bear been listed on the date the Fish and Wildlife Service was obligated to list, the MMS would have been required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Because this listing is already long overdue, there should be no further delay. I would like a firm commitment to take immediate action to protect the polar bear.
The American people want their grandchildren to share in the wonder of the polar bear.
It is our moral obligation to protect God’s creatures on earth. I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses.