The directors of two Interior Department agencies said yesterday they’re confident oil and gas exploration in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska can proceed without threatening polar bears that depend on the sea ice.

The officials appeared before a Congressional committee on global warming that is examining why the department is postponing a decision on whether to further protect the bear, at the same time it is proceeding with oil lease sales in the Alaska sea.

One of the directors, Randall Luthi, head of the Minerals Management Service, which is conducting the oil lease sales, said the bear is already adequately protected against harm from oil and gas development under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And he said the lease sales include provisions to mitigate the impact on the bear.

“We believe adequate protection exists,” said Luthi, noting that the sea is believed to contain 15 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Congressman Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and a committee chairman, said that if oil and gas development is allowed “we will be accelerating the day when the polar bear will be extinct”.

What part of the word “extinct” does the US government not understand?