Great news came for the Cook Inlet beluga whales on Friday. They’re finally, formally, being recognized as in trouble under the Endangered Species Act. Their numbers are at a fraction of their normal levels, and in spite of other, non-ESA programs that attempted to help, the belugas have failed to recover. Their numbers are so low that they are in danger of growing extinct.
The Cook Inlet belugas have been under consideration for Endangered Species Act protection since the late 1990s. So, logically, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has said that any judgment about whether to to give the animals the legal protection required for endangered species would be premature.
Because of her personal judgment that the rapid drop in beluga whale numbers in the Cook Inlet wasn’t such a big deal, Sarah Palin authorized the Big Oil company Chevron to dump of billions of gallons of toxic wastes such as arsenic and lead into the Cook Inlet. Top scientists said before that the Cook Inlet belugas may well go extinct because of such abuse, and now they’re saying it again. Sarah Palin says that she just knows better than those scientists. I’d like to hear her explain that to Katie Couric.
Still, let’s not just blame Sarah Palin for the troubles of the Cook Inlet belugas. Remember that Endangered Species Act protections for the Cook Inlet belugas were first requested in 1999. President Bill Clinton had almost two years to act on that request, but he failed to do so. That ought to serve as a reminder that failure on environmental issues is a bipartisan issue – and that even if Barack Obama is elected President, grassroots activists will need to keep up the pressure to ensure that he does the right thing.