What happened
The Bush administration on Thursday rebuffed a request from Congress to hold off on auctioning off new oil and gas leases in northwest Alaska’s Chuckchi Sea until a decision is made on whether to list polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Interior Department is expected to announce whether the bears will receive the designation within weeks. (McClatchy Newspapers in The Kansas City Star)

What the commentators said
The choice is clear, said the San Jose Mercury News in an editorial (free registration). “Protect first, drill later.” Polar bears have “become an icon of global warming” as their habitat melts away. “The Arctic oil isn't going anywhere and we need to make sure the polar bear isn't,” either.

“My guess is that the polar bears would barely notice the drilling,” said John Hinderaker in the Power Line blog. The only reason the subject is even being discussed is that Democrats in Congress are seizing on the issue to tweak the Bush administration, and to hold hearings complete with activists dressed in bear costumes. “National security? Ho-hum. The economy? Who cares? Polar bears? Now, there's a crisis!”

It probably makes sense for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list polar bears as threatened, said Holly Doremus in Slate. There are only 20,000 to 25,000 of the bears left worldwide and, while the population is stable, that’s sufficient justification for federal protection. The trouble is, listing polar bears as threatened won’t do a whole lot to stop global warming from melting their habitat.