Nobody Trusts Barack Obama on Energy

Environmentalists are mad and the industry is skeptical about Interior’s decision to allow Arctic oil drilling, and both sides worry about what comes next.

  On July 12, 2011, crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy retrieved a canister dropped by parachute from a C-130, which brought supplies for some mid-mission fixes. The ICESCAPE mission, or "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," is NASA's two-year shipborne investigation to study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. The bulk of the research takes place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen On July 12, 2011, crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy retrieved a canister dropped by parachute from a C-130, which brought supplies for some mid-mission fixes.The ICESCAPE mission, or "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," is NASA's two-year shipborne investigation to study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. The bulk of the research takes place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011.Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen  
National Journal
May 13, 2015, 4:05 p.m.

President Obama didn’t make any friends Monday when his administration gave a green light to drill in Arctic waters.

Environmentalists are up in arms, asking in no uncertain terms how a president who preaches the need to act on climate change and witnessed the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico could decide that more offshore drilling is a good thing.

And while the oil and gas industry and its champions are pleased that Shell may be able to drill in icy waters off Alaska’s coast as early as this summer, they still fear that Obama will stand in the way of efforts to tap vast Arctic oil deposits.

“I’m not going to believe it until it actually happens,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, emphasizing that Shell must still clear a slate of hurdles, including federal sign-off on additional permits, before drilling. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

“It’s a good first step. But you have to realize it’s just a first step. They still have a lot more to do to actually make it effective,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah.

More broadly, Monday’s announcement does little to ease tensions over the White House’s energy agenda or convince Republicans to back down from using their platform in Congress to fight Obama’s environmental actions, including tough regulations to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

Rep. Don Young of Alaska added that the green light given to Shell “will never make up for the vast swaths of onshore and offshore areas the administration has already taken off the table.”

Overall, Obama has taken historic action to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists say are driving global warming. In addition to setting out pollution curbs for power plants, the administration has rolled out an increase in fuel-economy standards and looked to squeeze out emissions cuts across a wide array of federal agencies.

But green groups have become increasingly irate over Obama’s recent policy agenda, which they see as evidence of an administration failing to practice what it preaches.

Environmentalists have railed against Obama’s efforts to negotiate and finalize a set of sweeping international trade deals that green groups say could undermine key environmental safeguards and worsen climate change. Now, the White House is poised to allow more oil drilling.

On Tuesday, Bill McKibben, the founder of grassroots environmental group 350.org and a pioneer of the climate movement, penned a scathing op-ed in The New York Times criticizing the Arctic-drilling news.

“The Obama administration’s decision to give Shell Oil the go-ahead to drill in the Arctic shows why we may never win the fight against climate change,” McKibben wrote. “Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no.”

On top of that, Obama still hasn’t made a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which has become the symbol of the national debate over climate change and American energy security. The administration’s silence on the pipeline has both sides on edge.

The White House points to Shell’s advance into the Arctic as evidence of the president’s all-of-the above energy strategy, and emphasizes that new federal safeguards should ensure that drilling is done safely and responsibly.

“The president is committed to ensuring that we are doing as much as we can to protect our energy security, and that means looking for opportunities to safely develop sources of energy on American soil,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday.

In February, the Interior Department unveiled a slate of safety standards designed to prevent and contain oil spills in remote Arctic waters, including requirements that companies have quick access to equipment to contain a potential blowout and have a rig available to drill a “relief well”—a second well that could halt the flow of oil from a blowout.

But all that has done little to calm fears from environmentalists that Arctic drilling will be a disaster.

Drilling in Arctic waters is no easy task. Freezing temperatures, choppy waters, and remote locations increase the odds of an accident. And green groups are quick to point out that the Interior Department itself has acknowledged the risk of a major oil spill if existing leases are developed in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea.

As a result, green groups are infuriated. Environmentalists don’t trust that safeguards put in place to protect the environment will suffice, and they view the decision as a step in entirely the wrong direction as they work to pressure the administration to continue tackling climate change before Obama’s term in office ends.

“We think the administration is dead wrong on this,” said Ben Schreiber, Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy program director.

“Arctic drilling is just a terrible, terrible idea,” said Elijah Zarlin, a senior campaigner for CREDO Action. “This is a president that has already presided over the greatest oil spill in history, and now it seems like he’s trying to break his own record. It certainly is becoming harder and harder to believe that the president is going to live up to his commitments.”

And Obama’s Arctic drilling go-ahead won’t earn the administration any more breathing room in Congress as long as Republicans run the show. The president’s critics are concerned that he’ll restrict Arctic offshore development in other ways. For instance, Interior’s plans call for selling Arctic leases next year and in 2017, but an aide to Murkowski expressed skepticism about whether those auctions will proceed.

“I’m not going to take my foot off the pedal,” Murkowski said. “I think it’s important for people to understand what resources we have, and yet what oftentimes we’re held back from accessing.”

What We're Following See More »
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
REDIRECTS $8 BILLION
Trump Declares National Emergency
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

Source:
COULD SOW DIVISION AMONG REPUBLICANS
House Will Condemn Emergency Declaration
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"House Democrats are gearing up to pass a joint resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that will force Senate Republicans to vote on a contentious issue that divides their party. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Thursday evening in an interview with The Washington Post that the House would take up the resolution in the coming days or weeks. The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratic-led House, and because it would be privileged, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be forced to put the resolution to a vote that he could lose."

Source:
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION, DRUG FORFEITURE FUND
Where Will the Emergency Money Come From?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"ABC News has learned the president plans to announce on Friday his intention to spend about $8 billion on the border wall with a mix of spending from Congressional appropriations approved Thursday night, executive action and an emergency declaration. A senior White House official familiar with the plan told ABC News that $1.375 billion would come from the spending bill Congress passed Thursday; $600 million would come from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund; $2.5 billion would come from the Pentagon's drug interdiction program; and through an emergency declaration: $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget."

Source:
TRUMP SAYS HE WILL SIGN
House Passes Funding Deal
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"The House passed a massive border and budget bill that would avert a shutdown and keep the government funded through the end of September. The Senate passed the measure earlier Thursday. The bill provides $1.375 billion for fences, far short of the $5.7 billion President Trump had demanded to fund steel walls. But the president says he will sign the legislation, and instead seek to fund his border wall by declaring a national emergency."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login