Obama Bans Oil Drilling in Vast Parts of the Arctic and the Atlantic

12:11 pm
0 Brooke Stevens
Obama pulls out a 1953 law to make sure the environment is protected before he leaves office.

Whether laws are always created for a justified reason or not – once a law is out there, it tends to have a life of its own. A single law legislated in the past can keep telling future leaders what to do or what not to do for years to come. Outgoing US president, Barack Obama, seems to be painfully aware of that, judging by his recent ruling. A 63-years-old law has just proved its independent force of authority once again, as Obama used it to make one final pro-environmental move before he steps out of office this January.

Obama has declared his decision of permanently banning offshore oil drilling in the vast majority of US-owned Arctic Shores, and in some parts of its Atlantic shores as well. The permanent ban is based on the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which according to the outgoing president, allows him to act unilaterally. According to the law, “The president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the Outer Continental Shelf.” This decision has no historical precedence, as former presidents have only used the law to protect smaller areas. Obama’s decision bans drilling in around 98% of federal Arctic waters, which constitute about 115 million acres, as well as around 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic Ocean.

Barack Obama
Photo by: usatoday.com

Clearly, Obama intends to make it harder for his successor, Donald J. Trump, to do as he pleases with the US’ environmental policy. Trump has already announced his blatant change of direction from the one the Obama administration has dictated when it comes to environmental issues. The President-Elect will find it extremely hard to reverse such a decision, which according to the definition of the 1953 law, is pretty much irreversible. If the trump administration will want to take a shot at it anyway, it would have to take the discussion to court.

Tuesday’s announcement came out simultaneously with a similar announcement made by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, stating a ban on new drilling in Arctic waters owned by Canada. According to Obama, “these actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth. They reflect the scientific assessment that even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

History will tell whether Obama’s ban will stand the test of time or not. But, there’s one thing it will surely do: stall. Trump, who has often been cited with explicit anti-environmentalist views, may try to change Obama’s ruling. One thing is for sure; it will take Trump a long time, and consume a lot of energy to do so. Much to the delight of climate-change advocates, the energy consumed, in this case, will be of much less destructive repercussions.


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