Bid to Limit U.S. Offshore Drilling Gains in Wake of Trump Win

  • Activists eyeing obscure 1953 law to permanently ban drilling
  • Some environmentalists worry its use risks repeal of law

A long-shot bid to convince the Obama administration to use 24 words of a 1953 law to permanently restrict oil development off the U.S. Atlantic and Arctic coasts is gaining support from environmentalists concerned about Donald Trump’s victory.

The move to use what’s known as provision 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act received backing Tuesday from billionaire conservationist Tom Steyer, the founder and former co-senior managing partner of Farallon Capital Management LLC.

"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," Steyer, who used his NextGen Climate Action advocacy group to back climate-friendly candidates, said in a statement. "We will continue to support bold action by President Obama to fight for our families, and we will keep pushing back against Trump’s dark vision and dangerous plans for our country."

Read more: Offshore Drilling Foes Invoke 1953 Law to Prod Obama on Ban

The renewed push to use the language, which has been employed to preserve coral reefs and walrus feeding grounds, comes as the Obama administration is expected to soon unveil its five-year plan for selling oil and gas leases from 2017 to 2022. The Obama administration has already taken an auction of Atlantic drilling rights off the table in its proposed version of the plan and is considering shrinking or eliminating two other proposed Arctic lease sales as well. 

A Trump administration could try to alter the five-year plan, but it would take several years of rule making. Invoking the 12 (a) provision would be more permanent without Congressional revocation of the authority.

Drilling in Alaskan seas is too risky and will exacerbate climate change in "this delicate region," other environmental leaders wrote in a letter to Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Monday. They are seeking to keep new sales of leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska out of the five-year plan.

An Interior Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a telephone message and e-mail seeking comment. A spokesman at the White House declined to comment.

Trump has pledged to increase U.S. oil production, both on and offshore, as well as reducing regulations on the industry.

“The Arctic should never have been on the table, and President Obama should use all the authority he has to put it off limits now," said Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. "He should make that decision on the merits and let the chips fall where they may."

But not all environmentalists agree that invoking the authority is a good idea. The law permits a president to "from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf."

Some opposed to the move warn the idea is especially treacherous now, because it could goad Republicans in Congress into repealing the 12(a) law so it can’t be used to protect environmentally sensitive areas in the future.

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