In a major, end-of-term accomplishment, President Obama has taken a decisive stand to keep drill rigs out of our publicly-owned Arctic Ocean, building on his past decision to drop Atlantic leasing as well. His administration’s just-issued five year offshore oil and gas leasing program reflects some of the boldest and most compassionate choices he has made. Bold because it rejects the oil industry’s widely-repeated myth that we are stuck burning their dirty fuels far into the future. Compassionate because the risks to marine resources, coastal communities, and our climate from expanded drilling would be severe, most of all for our children and grandchildren.
Oil from these ocean waters, as yet still undeveloped by the industry, would not come for decades if at all. By then, we have to be mostly transitioned from fossil fuels to clean energy to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. That means we can’t ever burn this stuff, if we hope to win on climate change. And the dirty air, polluted water, and oil spills that come with offshore drilling would damage human and ecosystem health for decades to come.
As great as this outcome is, it’s not enough. President-elect Trump’s team has made it crystal clear they will attempt to vastly expand drilling on all federal lands and waters. The new five year program’s exclusion of the Arctic and Atlantic may hold up against that onslaught, especially with groups like NRDC defending it. But it comes with a target already painted squarely on it.
Fortunately, President Obama has the power to do more to protect our Arctic and Atlantic oceans—and the residents that depend on their continued health. He has executive authority—exercised by half a dozen Presidents dating back to Eisenhower—to remove ocean areas from any future leasing plans. Not just now. Not for the next five years. Forever.
And that is what the science, economics, clean energy investors, local businesses, and the vast majority of Americans—especially African-Americans, Latinos, women, and millennials—support. They know there is no legitimate reason to let the oil industry into these fragile seas, no excuse for the inevitable harm.
Over 1.4 million public comments opposing offshore drilling have been sent to the Obama administration; Senators and Representatives, their efforts in Congress gridlocked, have called repeatedly on the President to take action; Native Alaskan residents and hundreds of Atlantic coast communities, businesses, and municipalities have declared their opposition to drilling and seismic testing; veterans have spoken out on the security risks of Arctic drilling and climate change; and a host of environmental, Latino, conservation, faith-based leaders and women’s rights organizations have called for permanent protection of these vibrant, oil-free waters that belong to all Americans.
The President deserves the Nation’s gratitude for taking a strong stand against powerful interests, keeping the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans out of the next five year offshore plan. Now he deserves our support for a final, momentous step to provide lasting protection. He can, he must, seize the opportunity that he has to make sure that both of these national treasures are never opened up to dirty, dangerous drilling, drilling that is all risk and no reward for the American people.