Obama’s blind spot on Arctic drilling

President Obama has been having quite a summer. In fact, some political pundits are calling 2015 the most successful year of his presidency — his nuclear-weapons deal with Iran, congressional approval of his Asian trade deal, seeing his health-care plan ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court and pushing a sweeping overhaul of the criminal-justice system. In the seventh year of his presidency, Obama seems to have a stronger sense of the few things he can accomplish with a Republican Congress, and what he can get done on his own.

That’s what makes the president’s approach to energy issues all the more frustrating. On one hand, Obama says many of the right things when it comes to climate change — that the problem of global warming is real, it’s serious, and the United States will need to work with other governments to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. He’s got the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushing for tougher regulations on power plant emissions.

But Obama is still a politician — eager to reap the benefits of low energy prices and possibly untangling some of our relationships with oil-exporting countries in the Middle East. At the same time that he’s been talking the talk on global warming, Obama has been promoting a so-called “all of the above” policy on energy exploration and development. As the name implies, this energy policy includes some good aspects — such as growing our renewable energy production — and a lot of bad aspects. The Obama administration has expanded offshore drilling leases — even after the environmental carnage of the 2010 Gulf oil spill — and wants to expand this risky practice to new areas such as the Atlantic coast. The government’s regulation of fracking under Obama has been weak and inconsistent. It’s a totally mixed message — how can you have a policy that seriously addresses climate change when the United States is becoming the world’s top oil-and-gas producer under your watch?

But perhaps nothing is more frustrating than the president’s stance on Arctic drilling, a dangerous practice with a high risk of a catastrophic accident in one of the most environmentally sensitive regions of the world:

 President Barack Obama on Wednesday afternoon gave the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell PLC to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska, flouting fierce public opposition to the extraction over the severe danger it poses to the ocean ecosystem, climate, and coastal communities.

“The president has made a big mistake allowing Shell back into the Arctic,” declared Center for Biological Diversity Alaska director Rebecca Noblin in a press statement released Wednesday. “The risks of a devastating oil spill in this harsh environment are just too great, particularly for a company with such poor performance record. This is a reckless move by a country that is still struggling to reduce its impact on global warming.”

The permits granted Wednesday mean that the oil giant can commence with drilling exploratory wells as soon as its vessels and equipment reach the sea. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced it has included some conditions, limiting Shell to “drilling only the top sections of wells and prohibit Shell from drilling into oil-bearing zones.”

But campaigners say that the restrictions are weak, and the fact that Shell will now be permitted to drill in the Arctic constitutes a deep betrayal of Obama’s own pledge to make tackling climate change one of his top three priorities during his second term. Moreover, the decision comes as scientists warn that to avert a climate catastrophe, the majority of fossil fuel deposits around the world must remain unused.

This is indeed a terrible mistake. As the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said last week: “The simple truth is that if we are to meet our climate goals, we must leave the vast majority of dirty fuels—including 100 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s oil—in the ground.” What’s more, this is a region of the world that still hasn’t bounced back 100 percent from the Exxon Valdez tanker spill, and that was more than a quarter of a century ago. We’ve seen in this decade that a major oil disaster can occur in the warm, placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico; in the icy, windswept waters of the Arctic, those risks are multiplied by many times. The tragedy is that at this point there’s probably only one thing that could force Obama to do the right thing on the Arctic: A horrific accident.

Read more about the President’s final approval for the Shell Arctic drilling plan at: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/07/22/cries-betrayal-calls-organize-obama-approves-arctic-drilling

For my more on how America can have a smarter energy policy, check out my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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