Anti-oil billionaire Tom Steyer wants the Obama administration to use extensive executive powers to permanently halt drilling in the Arctic before President-elect Donald Trump officially becomes president.
“The Trump administration has the potential to do serious damage to our climate — but in the last few months of his presidency, President Obama can take concrete steps to secure his environmental legacy,” the Democratic mega donor said in a statement Tuesday.
The well-heeled environmentalist’s push comes as anti-drilling activists continue pressing President Barack Obama to use executive powers to ban oil drilling in large swaths of the country.
Steyer’s political action group, NextGen Climate, and administration officials have discussed the possibility of using Obama’s executive powers to “withdraw from disposition” any section of the Outer Continental Shelf that has not already been leased for oil or gas drilling.
NextGen is requesting members sign a petition calling on Obama to stop drilling.
The president a has used executive powers in 2014, when he made the waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay indefinitely off limits for oil and gas leasing. He did the same in 2015 by making parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off limits.
Environmentalist groups such as Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have followed suit, calling on Obama to issue permanent leasing bans in the Arctic and Atlantic.
Still, legal officials are dubious as to whether Obama has the legal authority to place a permanent squash on oil drilling.
“No president has ever rescinded an open-ended reserve under this, and so there’s no litigation history,” John Leshy, a Clinton-era Department of the Interior official, told E&E News earlier this year. “Nobody knows the answer because it’s never been tried.”
The Obama administration meanwhile has slowly shifted its position on Arctic drilling, telling members of an Artic drilling association that drilling for oil and gas in Alaska is a net-benefit for society.
“Responsibly developing Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with United States’ ‘all-of-the-above’ approach,” Amy Pope, a White House official, said at an event on Oct. 26 sponsored by the Arctic Energy Center. She made the comments at an Atlantic Council event on Geopolitics, Security, and Energy in the Arctic.
All types of energy are welcome, she said, “wheather it’s renewables, expanding oil and gas production, increasing efficiency and conservation efforts to reduce our reliance on imported oil, and strengthening our nation’s energy security.”
Steyer, a former hedge fund manager turned environmentalist, spent more than $75 million this year on efforts to keep Trump and his ilk away from the White House. He also sunk a small fortune – more than $25 million – on registering millennials to vote on environmental issues.
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