Marine Conservation Alliance
A majority of the panelists invited by Sen. Lisa Murkowski to discuss the Endangered Species Act at a roundtable Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage slammed the law, saying it is used to block resource exploration, not protect animals. The costs of complying with the act are enormous and litigation abusing the law runs rampant, panelists said, claiming it has evolved into a tool in the crusade against climate change.
Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, the ESA requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to review any federal action that could hurt a protected species. In Alaska, organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity routinely file lawsuits against federal agencies for not doing enough to protect species like the polar bear, various northern seals, and the Cook Inlet beluga whale.
Roundtable participant Marilyn Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said Alaska’s polar bear population has increased during the 40 years the oil and gas industry has operated on the North Slope. “The largest obstacle facing the industry is litigation,” she said. Attorney General Dan Sullivan said he thinks Alaska can protect both its animals and its business and development interests, but added that currently the act is being misused to block development.
Another panelist, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. executive Oliver Leavitt, who spoke about learning to hunt the traditional way when he was a fourth grader in Barrow, said he doesn’t like the fact that the ESA is being used to sue to stop development. “We don’t much care for litigation in the north,” he said. The only speaker to defend the ESA came last. (Murkowski joked that it was only because the speakers were sitting alphabetically.) Peter Van Tuyn, an Anchorage environmental lawyer, said the experience in the rest of the country has been that the cost of compliance with the ESA is not that high.