McCain's vice-presidential pick, Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, sued the Bush Administration in federal court recently, charging it was too accepting of climate change studies which overstated the phenomenon's impact on polar bears. The result, she argued, would be a negative impact on her state's businesses, including oil and gas extraction.
Even as the White House has finessed its position on polar bears in the face of legal challenges and public pressure, Palin has led her state's efforts to block protections for the world's estimated 25,000 polar bears, of which roughly a fifth are believed to reside in Alaska.
"Listing the polar bear as a threatened species [under the Endangered Species Act] will have a significant adverse impact on Alaska because. . . [it] will deter activities such as commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration and development, transportation, and tourism," Palin's administration argued in its complaint against the Interior Department, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Aug. 4.
In defending her position, Palin has discounted the findings of nine recent U.S. Geological Survey studies which concluded that the polar bear's habitat is threatened by global warming, and the animals could be extinct before this century ends.
Three of Palin's own state scientists reviewed the USGS studies and found them sound, according to internal documents released to an Alaska professor earlier this year under the state's open records law. But she has argued, in a New York Times editorial and elsewhere, that "there is insufficient evidence that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future."
Palin's position, she wrote, is based on "a comprehensive review by state wildlife officials of scientific information from a broad range of climate, ice and polar bear experts."
"Essentially, she lied," said University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner, who wrangled with the Palin administration for months to obtain the documents. "She came out and said, 'our scientists agree the polar bears are fine and should not be listed'" when that wasn't the case, said Steiner, a conservation specialist who studies climate change. The McCain-Palin campaign did not make the governor available for comment.
While arguing against the U.S. government's own studies, Palin has embraced research funded in part by the petroleum industry, which concluded "it is simply not prudent to overstate the certainty" that climate change, or any other single factor, is responsible for "observed patterns in polar bear population ecology."
In their conclusion, the article's authors thanked ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute for helping fund the project, which has led critics – including House Science oversight panel chairman Brad Miller, D-N.C. – to criticize the work as "a facade of scientific respectability."
The authors noted that their paper's views were "independent of sources providing support." An ExxonMobil spokesman has called Miller's charge "ridiculous."
"It's like, same world, different planet," said Kassie Siegel of the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity, which pushed to get the polar bear listed as endangered . It is suing the Bush administration for doing too little to protect the animal.
Palin, said Siegel, was "spouting the discredited theories of the climate deniers" to support her arguments. Siegel's group has filed to intervene in the Alaska suit to defend the administration's listing.
"Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are committed to making sure the environment for polar bears will be preserved," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, policy director for the McCain-Palin campaign. Both politicians, however, are concerned that the listing uses the Endangered Species Act to address climate change. The two believe that the law "was never intended for that purpose," Holtz-Eakin said.