By Franz Matzner, Natural Resources Defense Council
President Obama today has once again stood up for the health of this and future generations by saving the U.S. Arctic and key areas of the Atlantic from the risks of offshore drilling.
This is a victory for our oceans and the millions of Americans across the country that support preserving and protecting our public waters from the harms and health hazards the come with offshore oil and gas extraction.
Most importantly, it’s a victory for our children who will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts, and who would have suffered the pollution, loss, and degradation of their natural heritage should oil drilling ever be allowed in these still untouched waters.
The U.S. Arctic and Atlantic OCS is held in trust for the benefit of all Americans, and are still undeveloped and undamaged by the oil industry. The Arctic Ocean, home to a vast array of wildlife, is already facing severe threats from climate change. And the Atlantic Ocean supports a rich web of life and and thriving coastal economies.
Oil production in these oceans—if feasible at all—would take decades to commercialize, arriving after the transition to cleaner fuels must already have turned the corner if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Recent polling shows that Americans support President Obama’s choice to protect these oceans and oppose turning them over to private oil companies. Not surprisingly, those who stand to be most impacted by this decision also overwhelmingly favor preserving, not drilling, these waters.
Over the past years the call for protection has been broad and unwavering. More than 1.4 million public comments opposing offshore drilling were submitted to the Obama administration; Members of the U.S. House and Senate have called on President Obama to take this historic action, emphasizing the appropriate use of the Outer Continental Shelf Act to do so; Native Alaskan residents and thousands 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 called for permanent protection of these vibrant, oil-free waters that belong to all Americans.
The Atlantic region contains extensive and diverse fish, shellfish, sea turtle, and dolphin populations. These regions also host important and sensitive marine species, including endangered whales. The oil exploration process alone requires powerful air guns that can injure or kill whales that rely on sound to find food and mate.
President Obama’s decision also acknowledges the science that the only safe Arctic Ocean drilling is no drilling at all. Oil companies have already tried—and failed—to bring Arctic oil closer to reality. And the Department of Interior’s own assessment found there is a 75% chance of an oil spill of greater than 1,000 barrels should even just Chukchi Sea existing leases proceed. Recent analysis shows just how devastating even one such spill would be to the whales, polar bears, and other wildlife that call the Arctic home—a huge portion of the region could be oiled.
No other President has recognized more profoundly that our nation is at grave risk from the impacts of climate change. Taking a stand against the oil industry’s attempts to lock in a future of dirty fuels by erecting lasting protection for the Arctic and important areas in the Atlantic Ocean is yet another example of this leadership and a signal to the world that we need to commit now to investing public resources in clean energy.
The President knows we are not stuck with oil.
Clean energy solutions are in our driveways, on our roofs, and fueling our nation’s businesses already. Last year, 70% of new power generation was renewable. Domestic gasoline consumption is below its 2007 peak despite vehicle miles being at record high levels. The development and demand for low-carbon technologies—like electric vehicles—are outpacing every prediction. Just one quarter of our nation’s offshore wind potential would match our nation’s entire existing fossil fuel-based electricity generating capacity.
Protecting and preserving our Arctic and Atlantic waters embraces the promise of that clean energy future. It embraces the notion that we will succeed in meeting the challenge of climate change, not turn backwards on progress or shirk our responsibilities to future generations.
President-elect Trump and his fossil fuel cabinet may try to reverse course, to deny the science, and reject the voices who so clearly demanded an end to offshore drilling. But facts and the law are stubborn things. And so will be the resistance of the communities and public who want certainty for their futures and our publicly-owned oceans.