President Obama’s parting shots
Free at last as his presidency ends, he paints a discolored legacy
President Obama is making sure that Americans won’t forget him soon. From shutting down promising sources of domestic energy production to throwing open the nation’s prisons and borders, the lame duck in the White House employs a little quackery to make good on his promise to fundamentally transform America.
Mr. Obama hurried off last week for his annual Christmas vacation in Hawaii, leaving behind a stunning executive order that exploded the following day like a grenade. The president asserted jurisdiction over large expanses of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, banning oil and gas drilling, which his lawyers are trying to make permanent. This was clearly orchestrated with Canada, which announced a companion prohibition on energy exploration in its Arctic waters. Obama administration officials cited the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which they say authorizes the president to protect waters from drilling but contains no provision for how the order can be reversed.
The president had a surprise for the coal industry: new rules governing the monitoring of water quality of streams and waterways in the vicinity of coal mines. The regulations are meant to take effect just as Mr. Obama leaves office and will cost coal companies an extra $81 million a year. The Stream Protection Rule may be temporary. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress authority to reverse regulations proposed within the previous 60 legislative days, and House Speaker Paul Ryan says that’s exactly what Congress will do.
Mr. Obama’s promise to President-elect Donald Trump of a “smooth and efficient” transition of power evaporated quickly. His energy production regulations and restrictions are booby traps that will stall Mr. Trump’s plans to create hundreds of thousands of jobs by undoing the Obama war on fossil fuels. In his haste to tie his successor’s hands, the president set a record for writing new rules. The Federal Register, the unabridged compilation of all rules and regulations, hit 91,642 pages last week, surpassing the previous mark by 10,000 pages.
Mr. Obama pardoned 78 federal prisoners this month and granted 153 commutations. His acts of clemency have set records that will be hard to break, 148 pardons and 1,176 reductions in sentence, including 395 life sentences. Only nonviolent criminals are eligible for clemency, but the president included several drug dealers who enforced their cruelty with guns. The president is trying to empty the Guantanamo Bay detention facility of the worst of the foreign terrorists. Eighteen of the 59 remaining prisoners are said to be scheduled for release before Jan. 20, the president’s last day in office. The president’s campaign promise to close the prison is likely to be broken, despite his best efforts.
The Israelis won’t easily forget Mr. Obama’s parting shot at them, refusing to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. In doing so, the president broke with longstanding tradition of defending America’s closest friend in the Middle East. His reputation for betraying America’s friends will live long after him.