President Obama announced Tuesday he would move to block the sale of offshore drilling rights in portions of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The unilateral action from the White House would stunt oil production in those regions indefinitely and is seen as a direct attempt to waylay plans from President-Elect Donald Trump to boost American energy production.
Obama’s legal pretext for the unilateral executive action is found in the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which allows the president wide latitude to withhold leases for oil and gas drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Under Section 12(a) of the act, presidents may “from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf.” Prior to Obama’s terms in office, the provision had been used just three other times in its 63 years.
“During your time in office, Alaska’s ability to produce energy, minerals, and other resources for the good of the nation has come under direct and sustained assault.”
Anticipating pushback from the incoming administration, the White House on Tuesday suggested a reversal of the president’s policy by Trump would be met with legal challenges.
“There is no provision … which provides for the reversal of a presidential withdrawal under Section 12(a),” Brian Deese, Obama’s senior adviser on energy and environment issues, told reporters Tuesday in a White House press call. “No president has ever acted to reverse an indefinite withdrawal and we believe there is a strong legal basis that [means] these withdrawals, as well as the other prior indefinite withdrawals, will go forward and will stand the test of time.”
“There is no authority for subsequent presidents to un-withdraw,” Deese continued. “That’s not the authority that was granted.”
Proponents of expanding America’s domestic energy production and jobs were quick to hammer the administration’s late-breaking power grab.
“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,” Dan Naatz of the Independent Petroleum Association of America told the Associated Press.
“The administration has always justified a ban on Arctic development because of an alleged lack of local support or industry interest,” Lucas Frances, spokesperson for the Arctic Energy Center, told Bloomberg Politics. “If reports are true, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama administration is playing politics with the future of Alaska.”
The administration’s action provoked an immediate outcry from the entire Alaskan delegation to Congress. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young all issued a join letter Tuesday in response to Obama’s intended course of action and condemned him for continuing a ruinous pattern of actions constituting “assault” upon the state.
“During your time in office, Alaska’s ability to produce energy, minerals, and other resources for the good of the nation has come under direct and sustained assault,” the statement to Obama read.
“Your administration has also locked away half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, imposed costly and extralegal mitigation requirements on the companies seeking to develop there, sought to turn the Arctic Coastal Plain into de facto wilderness, issued land management plans that replace opportunity with regulatory burden, seized authority to manage wildlife in our national parks and refuges from the State of Alaska, and most recently designated the northern Bering Sea as a ‘climate resilience area’ — a vague term with no legal basis.”
“These decisions, and others made during your administration, have consistently been executed over our objections, without meaningful consultation, and have drawn widespread opposition from the people we serve,” the letter concluded.
The administration announced the move as part of a joint environmentalist campaign with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday.
The ban on offshore leasing for several key regions in the Arctic and Atlantic is likely to be regarded as a direct attempt to prevent Trump from unshackling America’s domestic energy industry.
“The Trump administration has the potential to do serious damage to our climate — but in the last few months of his presidency, President Obama can take concrete steps to secure his environmental legacy,” San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, of the group NextGen Climate Action, recently wrote in a letter to the White House.
According to Trump’s campaign platform, one of his top priorities will be to “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves” while opening “onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminate [the] moratorium on coal leasing, and open shale energy deposits.”
“America’s incredible energy potential remains untapped,” Trump said during a speech in May. “It’s a wound that is totally self-inflicted.”
“President Obama has done everything he can to get in the way of American energy,” Trump added. “If President Obama wanted to weaken America, he couldn’t have done a better job.”