WASHINGTON - Five industry groups have sued the Interior Department over a rule to protect the polar bear that they say unfairly singles out business operations in Alaska for their contribution to global warming.
Groups representing the oil and gas, mining, and manufacturing industries asked a federal judge Wednesday to ensure that laws designed to protect the bear, which was recently designated a threatened species, are not used to block projects that release heat-trapping gases in the state.
The American Petroleum Institute was joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Iron and Steel Institute in the lawsuit, which explicitly challenges three words - except in Alaska - that appear in a 62-page rule issued in May.
That's when the polar bear became the first species with a population that the government has classified as threatened by global warming. The bear depends on sea ice, which is expected to melt as temperatures climb, for survival.
The Bush administration made clear that it did not want the polar bear's status to become a tool of environmentalists seeking to regulate the gases blamed for global warming.
On the day it announced the polar bear as a threatened species, which bars harm to the bear or its habitat, the administration also issued a special rule limiting the types of projects that could be evaluated.
To further block attempts to use endangered species law to control greenhouse gas emissions, it exempted projects in all states but Alaska from undergoing reviews.
The groups say the three words - which they refer to as The Alaska Gap - are unlawful and run counter to the administration's belief that it is impossible to link emissions from a single project to the increasing temperatures that threaten the polar bear.
"Anchorage has no more effect on climate change or polar ice than does an emission in Ankara," the suit reads.
The lawsuit filed Thursday is the latest to target the polar bear. Environmentalists and the state of Alaska have also sued the Interior Department over the polar bear's protection.
In the meantime, energy companies have paid billions for the right to explore for oil and natural gas in polar bear habitat.
The Interior Department would not comment on the lawsuit.
Brendan Cummings, the oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which is challenging the rule in court on the grounds that it is illegal, said Thursday that the lawsuit brought by industry is another attempt to "make the polar bear's protections more meaningless than they already are."