A wide group of organizations are calling on President Barack Obama to immediately halt the issuance of any new offshore drilling licenses. Such licenses, they fear, would put America on a dirty, fossil-fuel path for the next 40 to 70 years – the normal lifetime of a lease – and continue our oil addiction, putting the world at risk of catastrophic climate change.
The legal petition has the support of 45 climate, conservation and indigenous organizations that represent communities all across the country. I've worked in the nonprofit world, and I can tell you that getting a handful of organizations together on a campaign is tough. Forty-five? That's historic. And if they succeed, nearly 1 billion acres of America's coastline would be secure from drilling, keeping a lot of oil in the ground.
The good news is that President Obama is, slowly, moving in the right direction. He recently banned most new coal mines on federal lands and banned offshore drilling on the Atlantic Coast, both of which were historic decisions that will have positive impact on America's energy future. He also, late last year, canceled Shell's Arctic oil lease, essentially putting a big chunk of the Arctic off the table for the foreseeable future.
“President Obama recognized oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast was a bad idea. But the same logic — that we must protect our climate, wildlife and coastal communities from oil spills and carbon emissions — holds true for all ocean coasts,” said Miyo Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the supporters of the legal petition, in a press statement.
In fact, Obama's presidency also oversaw one of the biggest expansions in oil drilling in history (though recent oil prices have tapered that down). This is despite seeing, over the past seven years, the disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Refugio Oil Spill off California, both of which are still impacting the environment today. The truth is: We're still drilling too much, in too many places, and any expansion of land available to lease could be disastrous.
“These risks are compounded by the devastating and long-lasting effects of climate change on our coastlines, communities, wildlife and public health,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, another petition signatory, in a statement.
President Obama has staked his legacy partly on climate, and he will, in the coming weeks, officially sign the United States onto the Paris Agreement that mandates massive cuts in CO2 emissions. He won't be able to get Congress to act on climate, but he does have the power to -- unilaterally, through an executive order -- stop all new offshore oil drilling, which would be a powerful step in the right direction. Let's hope he listens and helps further his legacy as the president who helped America break its fossil-fuel addiction and become a clean-energy economy.
Image credit: Chad Teer via Wikimedia