WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a court challenge to the Bush administration's approval of a nationwide plan governing the sale of all offshore oil and gas leases in federal waters over the next five years. The Minerals Management Service's 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program was approved by Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne last Friday. The program, effective July 1, schedules 21 lease sales in eight planning areas across the nation 12 sales are scheduled for the Gulf of Mexico, eight off the coast of Alaska, and one off the coast of Virginia.
In addition to fouling some of the most pristine and sensitive marine habitat in the country, the program would generate more than 4 billion tons of greenhouse gases over the expected life of the leases.
"This plan is the culmination of the Cheney energy policy," said Kassie Siegel, climate program director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It will further our national addiction to fossil fuels, contribute to global warming, and at the same time directly despoil the habitat of polar bears and other imperiled wildlife."
Five of the proposed lease sales would be in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska, turning prime polar bear habitat into a polluted industrial zone. Oil development in the Beaufort Sea would likely also be visible from the shores of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. An additional lease sale proposed in Alaska's Bristol Bay is within critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale, the world's most endangered whale, while two lease sales are proposed for Cook Inlet, home to endangered beluga whales and sea otters.
"Short of sending Dick Cheney to Alaska to personally club polar bear cubs to death, the administration could not have come up with a more environmentally destructive plan for endangered marine mammals," said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director of the Center. "Yet the administration did not even analyze, much less attempt to avoid, the impacts of oil development on endangered wildlife."
Even though the leasing program will result in more greenhouse gas emissions than virtually any other single federal approval, the administration did not study the environmental consequences of emissions from the program.
In addition to its contribution to global warming and severe impacts on marine mammals, the leasing program would hurt commercial fisheries and subsistence activities in Alaska.
The lawsuit, filed in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., raises claims under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act. The case number is 07-1247.
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