The Alaska Legislature will spend $1.5 million for a conference and public relations campaign to keep the Endangered Species Act from being used as a tool to fight climate change. Some lawmakers fear that the ESA will be used as a weapon against Alaska's economic development — the prime example being the polar bear. Suits to protect the bear under the endangered species act lawsuits, for example, could halt oil production in the Chukchi Sea. But any Alaska conference or PR effort that questions the ESA will be suspect. It will have the same credibility as a study of oil in Prince William Sound done by Exxon Mobil — or Greenpeace. The suspicion always is that the backers are looking for data to fit their foregone conclusions and will dismiss data that doesn't.
Lawmakers would help Alaska more by using that $1.5 million to get savvy lawyers on the case. Gov. Sean Parnell already has sued the federal government in an attempt to reverse the polar bear listing.
That's a tall order. But the courts, rather than Congress, are where the state's efforts should be directed.
Do some environmental groups want to use the ESA to curb development that contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and accelerates climate change? Bet on it.
But if the state wants to spend money effectively, forget the conference and lucrative deal for some public relations firm. Research challenges to the ESA and how it is applied. Point out the economic consequences of decisions that freeze development. Make the case that in the global scope of climate change, one project won't make much difference, and may offer economic benefits worth the carbon. Whenever possible, offer alternatives that offer some protection to species and still allow development. We've had some success with that in Alaska.
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