Neil Gorsuch Could Ruin The Future of Polar Bears

So much for justice.

4 SEP 2017

Environmentalists are worried that Neil Gorsuch, Trump's recently confirmed Supreme Court justice, will vote against important environmental regulations, like protecting critical polar bear habitats.


Gorsuch's record suggests he may not be friendly towards environmental agencies, and many conservationists are worried that he may stall the process of environmental regulations.

But environmentalists won't have to speculate for long. Gorsuch's stance on environmental policy will be put to the test when the Supreme Court decides whether or not to rule on a case regarding the fate of polar bears.

In 2008, under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared that polar bears are a threatened species. In 2010, the federal agency placed oil restrictions on 187,000 square miles of land around the Bering Sea, the Arctic Ocean and the Alaskan North Slope. The agency did this in order to protect habitat that is critical for polar bear survival.

Naturally, the Alaskan oil industry has sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for overstepping and arbitrarily selecting the boundaries for polar bear habitat. But in the case Alaska Oil and Gas Association v. Zinke, the 9th Circuit of Appeals sided with the wildlife agency.

Now, the Alaskan oil industry has appealed, and the Supreme Court must decide whether they hear the case.


The real question the Supreme Court faces is whether the wildlife agency has the power to designate huge swaths of land as "critical habitat" for endangered species.

Currently, the Supreme Court defers to federal agencies to create and implement environmental regulations. This is known as the "Chevron deference" from the 1984 case Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council.

The "Chevron deference", for instance, means that the Environmental Protection Agency can allow scientists to help make rules to enforce the Clean Air Act. It also means that federal agencies can change and alter their rules with improved scientific understanding and advances in technology.

In the past, Gorsuch has called on the Supreme Court to limit the ability of federal agencies. In fact, while on the 10th Circuit, Gorsuch wrote a long letter of concurrence where he argues that Supreme Court judges should not defer to federal agencies, like the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Instead, Gorsuch argues that Congress should be the ones designing these complex regulations. This would mean that Congress has to pass new legislation each time they want to create an environmental regulation and each time an environmental regulation needs to be updated.

"We managed to live with the administrative state before Chevron," Gorsuch writes. "We could do it again."

If Gorsuch gets his way it would severely weaken the power of federal agencies to protect the USA's clean air and water. Not to mention it would drastically reduce our ability to respond quickly to the effects of climate change.

Arctic sea ice is retreating faster than we ever could have predicted, increasing the urgency to save Earth's dwindling number of polar bears. Addressing climate change issues in the Arctic is more important now than ever.

Here's hoping the Supreme Court does not take the case.