Environmental Restrictionists Could Use Polar Bears to Get in the Way of Infrastructure Projects

Democrats say they want major infrastructure projects.

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By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

In his townhall.com column, Hugh Hewitt cites my recent blogpost on Interior Secretary-designate Ken Salazar and raises the question of how Salazar will deal with polar bears. Yes, polar bears. As Hewitt points out in this column and as he has written on his blog at hughhewitt.com, environmental restrictionists want to use the threat that supposed global warming poses to polar bears as the basis of legal suits to stop economic development not just in Alaska but throughout the United States. This sounds outlandish, but it's true. No economic growth because it might raise temperatures in the Arctic, which might in turn reduce the number of ice floes that these attractive carnivores jump on.

As Hewitt has pointed out, polar bear populations have actually been increasing lately. The species is not endangered but thriving. In February 1998, I visited the oil fields in the North Slope of Alaska. It was 40-below zero (don't ask which scale: It's 40 below in both Fahrenheit and Centigrade), and I was being driven around in an all-terrain vehicle on ice roads. The vehicle had been warmed up for three hours, but I could still see my breath inside; the road conditions were such that we couldn't go more than 30 miles an hour. "Wouldn't it be great," I said to the driver, "if we saw a polar bear." "No, it wouldn't," he said. "A polar bear can run faster than this car can go and can punch through the windshield with his paw. And to him, you're lunch."

Democrats say they want major infrastructure projects. The usual argument against them—that they take too long to get up and running to stimulate a recessionary economy—is weak because the current recession threatens to linger and perhaps turn into long-running deflation. But we can't have major infrastructure projects if environmental restrictionists sue and stop them in the name of the polar bear. This is something Democrats, especially Ken Salazar, might want to think about.

  • Read more by Michael Barone.
  • Read more about endangered species.
  • Read more about the environment.