February 23, 2009

Sarah Palin: the next posterchild for so-called anti-environmentalism?

By Sarah Palin: the next posterchild for so-called anti-environmentalism?

Salon.com's Katharine Mieszkowski has this article on Sarah Palin and Alaska's opposition to the listing of the Cook Inlet beluga whale. Similar to what occurred when former President Bush acted contrary to environmental organizations' wishes, Mieszkowski attacks Palin simply for opposing the listing and then ties her attack to the Alaskan oil industry.

What's missing? There's barely a mention of the reasons behind Alaska's filing of the 60-day notice of intent to file an Endangered Species Act lawsuit. This would seem to be important, given that the notice alleges why the listing of the whale is legally flawed.

A brief examination of the press release on the 60-day notice would reveal that Palin believes that:

the listing decision should be withdrawn due to failure to adequately consider conservation or protection efforts by Alaska, failure to provide to Alaska’s agencies an adequate written justification for portions of NMFS’ final rule not consistent with the agencies’ comments, failure to properly document or support its determination that the beluga whales in Cook Inlet comprise a distinct population segment and failure to provide a public review and comment period on significant studies and documentation used to support the listing.

According to Mieszkowski, these four assertions can be neatly summarized: Palin is arguing that "Alaska is already doing enough for the whales in the Inlet."

One might expect that Mieszkowski would go to Alaska officials for an explanation of the Palin administration's position. Instead, she turns to the Center for Biological Diversity's Brendan Cummings:

[A]n endangered designation means that the federal government will designate "critical habitat" for the belugas this year within Cook Inlet, offering new protections for spots frequented by the whales.

That's what's got the Palin administration's goat. "The fear is that the Endangered Species Act listing of the beluga will lead to regulation of essentially unfettered industrial activity in Cook Inlet," explains Cummings.

It's hard to believe that industrial activity in Cook Inlet is "essentially unfettered." The point is, however, that Mieszkowski has done a disservice to her readers by implying that the sole reason for Alaska's opposition to the Cook Inlet beluga whale listing is to protect industrial development. Palin and Alaska have several reasonable arguments why the listing is not justified, and they are a bit more nuanced than merely "pandering" to property-rights advocates.

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