Obama bans fu­ture oil leases in much of Arc­tic, At­lantic

The fin­ish­ing touches on Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Tues­day des­ig­nated the bulk of US-owned wa­ters in the Arc­tic Ocean and cer­tain ar­eas in the At­lantic Ocean as in­def­i­nitely off lim­its to fu­ture oil and gas leas­ing. The move helps put some fin­ish­ing touches on Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy while also test­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s prom­ise to un­leash the nation’s un­tapped en­ergy re­serves.

The White House an­nounced the ac­tions in con­junc­tion with the gov­ern­ment of Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, which also placed a mora­to­rium on new oil and gas leas­ing in its Arc­tic wa­ters, sub­ject to pe­ri­odic re­view. Obama is mak­ing use of an ar­cane pro­vi­sion in a 1953 law to ban off­shore leases in the wa­ters per­ma­nently. The statute says that “the pres­i­dent of the United States may, from time to time, with­draw from dis­po­si­tion any of the un­leased lands of the outer Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups hope the ban, de­spite re­ly­ing on ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers, will be dif­fi­cult for fu­ture pres­i­dents to re­verse. The White House said it’s con­fi­dent the pres­i­dent’s or­der will with­stand le­gal chal­lenge and said the lan­guage of the statute pro­vides no author­ity for sub­se­quent pres­i­dents to undo per­ma­nent with­drawals.

The At­lantic wa­ters placed off lim­its to new oil and gas leas­ing are 31 canyons stretch­ing off the coast of New Eng­land south to Vir­ginia, though some had hoped for a more ex­ten­sive ban that would have ex­tended fur­ther south. Ex­ist­ing leases aren’t af­fected by the pres­i­dent’s ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions. The ad­min­is­tra­tion cited en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns in both re­gions to jus­tify the mora­to­rium.

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the ecosys­tem

Obama also cited the im­por­tance of the Chukchi and Beau­fort seas in pro­vid­ing sub­sis­tence for na­tive Alaskans and the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the ecosys­tem to an oil spill to jus­tify his di­rec­tive.

Obama also noted the level of fuel pro­duc­tion oc­cur­ring in the Arc­tic. Obama said just 0.1 per­cent of off­shore crude pro­duc­tion came from the Arc­tic in 2015, and at cur­rent oil prices, sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­tion would not oc­cur in fu­ture decades.

“That’s why look­ing for­ward, we must con­tinue to fo­cus on eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment for Arc­tic com­mu­ni­ties be­yond this one sec­tor,” Obama said. Still, in­dus­try of­fi­cials ob­jected to Obama’s mem­o­ran­dum, call­ing it “last minute po­lit­i­cal rhetoric.” “In­stead of build­ing on our nation’s po­si­tion as a global en­ergy leader, to­day’s uni­lat­eral man­date could put Amer­ica back on a path of en­ergy de­pen­dence for decades to come,” said Dan Naatz of the In­de­pen­dent Petroleum As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica.

And Alaska Gov Bill Walker, an in­de­pen­dent, said Obama’s move marginal­ized lo­cal voices. He said no one is more in­vested than Alaskans in mak­ing sure Arc­tic habi­tats are pro­tected. “To lock it up against any fur­ther ex­plo­ration or de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­ity is akin to say­ing that the voices of ac­tivists who live in Lower 48 cities have a greater stake than those to whom the Arc­tic is our front yard and our back yard,” he said in a state­ment. In is­su­ing a per­ma­nent ban, Obama ap­pears to be try­ing to tie the hands of his suc­ces­sor. Trump has vowed a do­mes­tic en­ergy rev­o­lu­tion and is fill­ing his Cabi­net with nom­i­nees deeply op­posed to Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate change ac­tions.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups were call­ing for a per­ma­nent ban even be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but Trump’s vic­tory has pro­vided greater ur­gency for them and for busi­nesses that rely on tourism and fish­ing. Trump has said he in­tends to use all avail­able fuel re­serves for en­ergy self-suf­fi­ciency - and that it’s time to open up off­shore drilling.

“This de­ci­sion will help pro­tect ex­ist­ing lu­cra­tive coastal tourism and fish­ing busi­nesses from off­shore drilling, which prom­ises smaller, short-lived re­turns and threat­ens coastal liveli­hoods,” said Jac­que­line Savitz, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at the ad­vo­cacy group, Oceana. A key ques­tion to be an­swered is how dif­fi­cult it will be for fu­ture pres­i­dents to over­turn Obama’s de­ci­sion should they seek to do so.

Sim­ple mem­o­ran­dum

The Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute pointed to 2008 when Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush used a sim­ple mem­o­ran­dum to re­move pre­vi­ously with­drawn lands and make all Outer Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf lands avail­able for leas­ing ex­cept marine sanc­tu­ar­ies. “For­tu­nately, there is no such thing as a per­ma­nent ban,” said the in­sti­tute’s Erik Mil­ito. But White House of­fi­cials in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters said pre­vi­ous “in­def­i­nite with­drawals” re­main in place and voiced con­fi­dence that Obama’s de­ci­sion will stand. Ad­vo­cacy groups were al­ready warn­ing that they were pre­pared to file suit to pro­tect the ban dur­ing fu­ture ad­min­is­tra­tions. “If Don­ald Trump tries to re­verse Pres­i­dent Obama’s with­drawals, he will find him­self in court,” said Marissa Kn­odel of Friends of the Earth. Frank Knapp, pres­i­dent of the South Carolina Small Busi­ness Cham­ber of Com­merce in Columbia, said he was “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed” in the de­ci­sion not to ex­tend drilling pro­tec­tions to the en­tire At­lantic se­aboard.

Knapp and his group were among a num­ber of busi­ness groups in the south­east who had ad­vo­cated for ban­ning new drilling leases off their shores, ar­gu­ing that the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts would hurt fish­ing, tourism and other busi­nesses the re­gion re­lies upon. He’d gone to Washington to meet with Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, and be­lieved the en­tire At­lantic was to be pro­tected.

The de­ci­sion came as Obama spends the hol­i­days in Hawaii. Some Demo­cratic law­mak­ers ap­plauded Obama, while some Repub­li­cans were highly crit­i­cal. “As Pres­i­dent-elect Trump nom­i­nates fos­sil fuel al­lies to his Cabi­net, Pres­i­dent Obama has in­stead put the in­ter­ests of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans ahead of those of Big Oil with these per­ma­nent pro­tec­tions,” said Demo­cratic Sen. Ed Markey of Mas­sachusetts. “The extremes to which this pres­i­dent will go to ap­pease spe­cial in­ter­ests never ceases to amaze,” coun­tered Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and chair­man of the House Com­mit­tee on Nat­u­ral Re­sources. “This is not a moral call­ing; it’s an abuse of power.” —

AP

SEATTLE: In this May 14, 2015, file photo, the oil drilling rig Po­lar Pioneer is towed to­ward a dock in El­liott Bay. —

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