Marc Morano 202-224-5762 

Matt Dempsey



Opening Statement by Senator James M. Inhofe

Senate Environment and Public Works Full Committee Hearing

Oversight Hearing on the Delay of the Polar Bear Listing Decision

Good morning.  This is our second hearing in 3 months on the polar bear.  The focus of this hearing is on the Department of the Interior’s failure to meet its court-ordered and statutory deadlines for making a listing decision and the subsequent lawsuit brought by environmental groups.  The decision is overdue by 90 days and many of my Democratic colleagues are outraged by the delay.

I firmly believe that statutory and court-ordered deadlines should be met.  However, this is not the first time that the Fish and Wildlife Service has missed one of these deadlines.  For example, in July 1998, the Clinton Administration proposed to list the Canadian Lynx as threatened under ESA.  The final rule was published in March 2000—exceeding the statutory one-year deadline by more than 250 days.  It is my understanding that from 1998-2000, the prior administration had a 10% success rate in getting listing decisions made within the one-year statutory window.  So this is not an unprecedented occurrence, nor is it unique to the Bush Administration.

It is very telling that my Democratic colleagues have chosen this missed deadline over which to get so upset.   And the fact that we have had two hearings on a single listing decision reinforces my belief that listing the polar bear is not about protecting the bear, but about using the ESA to achieve global warming policy that special interest groups can not otherwise achieve through the legislative process.  Worldwide polar bear population numbers are at or near all-time highs, especially in comparison to 40-50 years ago.  A majority of populations are considered stable, some are increasing.  I worry that we have spent, and will continue to spend, too much time and money examining a healthy species and manufacturing ways to predict its demise, when there are hundreds of species legitimately on the list that need these scarce department resources. 

The ESA is simply not equipped to regulate economy-wide greenhouse gases, nor does the Fish and Wildlife Service have the expertise to be a pollution control agency.  The regulatory tools of the ESA function best when at-risk species are faced with local, tangible threats.  Greenhouse gas emissions are not local.  Without objection, I would like to enter in the record a law review article written by Florida State Law School professor JB Ruhl entitled “Climate Change and The Endangered Species Act.”  In his article, Professor Ruhl states, “Accurate prediction of climate change effects on local ecological conditions is, for now (and perhaps always will be) beyond the capacity of ecological models.”  In essence, we can’t scientifically establish a direct causal link from a CO2 molecule in Oklahoma or in Wyoming or in China to a direct effect on a polar bear in Alaska.  We can’t say which molecule is responsible.  So how do you know who the culprit is and how do you regulate their activity under ESA?  I look forward to hearing from Bill Horn, a former Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks in the Reagan Administration on this point.

Finally, when I was Chairman, we heard testimony before the committee that the Act’s strict timelines make it nearly impossible for the scientists to do a thorough job.  And, the Act’s terms, such as “foreseeable future” -- on which the polar bear decision rests -- pose complex problems for decision makers.  The Director of the Service testified in January that he needed extra time to review additional science before making the final decision on the polar bear.  While every deadline should be met, I believe it is most important, given the implications of a polar bear listing, that we get this right the first time.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.