In win for oil, natural-gas industry, court reverses rule protecting polar bear habitat

A U.S. court in Alaska has overturned a federal rule aimed at protecting polar bear habitat in the Arctic, handing a victory to the oil and natural-gas industry.

The rule, established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is "valid in many respects," but the agency didn't follow all the legally required steps before adopting the regulation, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline wrote in the decision, which was dated Thursday and published Friday.

The judge sent the regulation back to the agency to correct what he called "procedural deficiencies."

"There is no question that the purpose behind the service's designation is admirable, for it is important to protect the polar bear, but such protection must be done correctly," the judge wrote.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the state of Alaska filed lawsuits against the federal government in 2011, challenging its designation of more than 187,000 square miles of Arctic coastal areas as "critical habitat" for polar bears. The plaintiffs argued that the designation was excessive and unnecessary.

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Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said Friday that he "applauded" the court's decision.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service's attempt to classify massive sections of resource-rich North Slope lands as critical habitat is the latest in a long string of examples of the federal government encroaching on states' rights," Mr. Parnell said.

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