Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is calling on President Obama to permanently ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic using his executive authority. From Politico:
NextGen and White House officials have discussed the possibility of Obama using his executive powers under a section of the law governing offshore drilling that allows him to “withdraw from disposition” any section of the Outer Continental Shelf that has not already been leased for oil or gas drilling…
Steyer’s group says more permanent protections are available using section 12(a) of the OCS Lands Act. Similar to the Antiquities Act, which presidents can use to create national monuments to permanently protect parcels of land from development, Section 12(a) does not include language that allows future presidents to undo the withdrawal of offshore areas from future leasing.
“We know that this idea has been under serious consideration in the White House, from direct conversations, but we don’t know where they are in that process at this stage,” said a NextGen Climate America official who requested anonymity and would not say when the conversations happened.
So, because this section of the Act doesn’t specifically say it is reversible, Trump would need to go to court to try to reverse it. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it, only that it might be a new precedent if he did. Politico spoke to a former Interior official who says, “No president has ever rescinded an open-ended reserve under this, and so there’s no litigation history.”
The other part of this story that is interesting is that Steyer seems to be revealing the White House was quietly considering doing this anyway. That Obama would intentionally try to make a change like this, one he hopes Trump can’t undo, after this election would be a slap in the face to the president-elect and the voters who put him in office. It would also be at odds with the conciliatory message Obama has been spreading since last Tuesday.
The Hill reports that just today, Obama praised Trump as “gregarious” and “pragmatic” and warned that the “federal government and our democracy is not a speed boat.” “It’s an ocean liner,” Obama added. But, to extend the metaphor, making a potentially irreversible offshore drilling move weeks before Trump takes office would be the equivalent of sending the ship of state into a hard left turn moments before the new captain reaches the bridge. I have no doubt Obama wants to do it but it really would undercut the smooth transition which, to his credit, he seems to be working to create.