Finally some good news in the fight against Arctic drilling


It’s easy to get discouraged about the future of environmentalism when you’re following news of the 2016 presidential race. After all, with an astounding 17 “major” candidates throwing their hats into the ring, and with only nationally televised debate so far, the Republican Party is drawing the lion’s share of the news coverage. And when it comes to the fate of Planet Earth — especially the make-or-break issue of climate change — the reality is that all of the GOP front-runners are pandering both to their Big Oil donors and to the climate deniers in the reactionary base of the party.

That’s worrisome, because on a number of key environmental issues the 45th president is going to be hugely influential. The next occupant of the Oval Office will have an opportunity to improve on the mixed record of President Obama, who did boost renewable energy in America even as the nation was also once again becoming the world’s largest oil producer. But — as mentioned here previously — some of his major policy decisions seem weirdly at odds with his stated goal of fighting global warming.

The worst case is Arctic drilling. Obama — who recently visited Alaska  — spoke recently with great eloquence of that impact that a rapidly warming planet is having on that state. “In Alaska, glaciers are melting,” he said. “The hunting, fishing, upon which generations have depended for their way of life and for their jobs, are being threatened. Storm surges once held at bay now endanger entire villages. As Alaskan permafrost melts, some homes are even sinking into the ground. The state’s God-given natural treasures are at risk.”

Days later, the Obama administration gave its final OK for Shell to drill for more oil on offshore rigs in the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. The move will increase U.S. production of the fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases — the kind of pollution we need to be reducing if we’re serious about climate change. Arguably even worse, drilling in the bitter cold winds of the Arctic region, under the worst weather conditions known to humankind, is an invitation for another spill. Such an accident would likely be on the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf, yet much, much harder to clean up. The president has insisted that his administration forced important modifications to the original Shell plan, but the reality is that offshore drilling in the Arctic is unsafe under any circumstance.

So what’s the good news? Somebody gets it, and that somebody is the leader in all the latest polls to become next president: Hillary Clinton. Even though she served under Obama as his secretary of state, Clinton recently broke with her former boss on the Arctic drilling issue. Someone finally gets it:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is making a firm commitment to oppose offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean, her campaign confirmed to ThinkProgress on Tuesday.

Her announcement comes just one day after the Obama administration gave final approval to oil company Royal Dutch Shell to begin exploratory drilling off the coast of Alaska, a decision environmentalists have sharply criticized. The Arctic’s environment is too fragile and remote to justify the high risk of an oil spill there, activists say.

Clinton seemed to resonate with those concerns on Tuesday. On Twitter, she called the Arctic a “unique treasure,” and said offshore drilling would pose an unacceptable risk.

Some of the other Democrats seeking the presidency also have solid environmental records, but Clinton is the first to break with Obama administration policy on this critical issue. That’s a very positive sign. The next president will take office in 17 months, and it’s not clear that the future of the Arctic Ocean can wait even that long.

Read more about the Obama administration’s decision to give final approval to Shell’s Arctic drilling scheme here:

Check out ThinkProgress’ piece on Hillary Clinton’s opposition to offshore Arctic drilling:

Read more about the risks of increased offshore drilling in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America:

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

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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