For all of former U.S. President Barack Obama's positive moves on clean energy and environmental protection, one glaring black mark remains on his record: He oversaw a huge expansion in domestic oil drilling. Unfortunately, this is the only part of his legacy that incoming President Donald Trump wants to keep intact.
While Obama's support for renewables and stricter regulations on dirty power plants is one reason that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped during his presidency, many say not enough was done to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Even the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster – from which the Gulf Coast is still recovering -- did not dent drilling under Obama.
Oil production, which had been falling since the 1970s, grew under an astounding 72 percent during the Obama years. That is 3.6 million extra barrels a day from a president who promised to shift us to more environmentally-friendly policies. In 2013, the U.S. even became the world's leading oil and gas producer. Remember how Republicans used to always call for energy independence? Under Obama, we got closer to that goal than ever before.
While the end of Obama's second term saw some positive shifts – such as the banning of drilling in the Arctic and in wide swaths of the Eastern seaboard -- it was, to many, too little too late. And Obama-era legislation left plenty of areas open for drilling, and that's just what Trump plans to do.
Environmental groups seem to agree that Trump's policies are, on the whole, a lot worse that Obama's. Not surprisingly, the incoming president wants to take little from Obama's policies promoting clean energy and restricting emissions from coal power plants. But he does want to keep in place the previous administration's moves to expand offshore drilling – and environmentalists are not happy.
“Bottom line, we think this is a terrible idea, whether it was done by the Obama administration or the Trump administration,” Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, told the Washington Post. “It’s time to keep oil in the ground."
We live in a reality where oil company press releases = presidential press releases. ExxonMobil already plans to invest $20 billion in the Gulf, while its former CEO begins his duties as secretary of state.
To many our only hope is that the predictions, becoming more and more plentiful, that oil will soon follow the trend of big coal are true. Coal also saw a rush to invest and build new power plants during the President George W. Bush era, when overseas demand from emerging economies in Asia seemed limitless. Yet, coal has seen its usage collapse in the United States and abroad and prices tumble. Let's hope petrol follows the same path, because the last thing the world needs is more oil.
Image credit: Bernado via Wikimedia Commons
Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.