President Obama is using his last few weeks in office to take a stand for the environment. His latest act is one of the most significant of his presidency.
According to the New York Times, the outgoing president will use his executive authority under the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling in federal waters off the Atlantic coast, and in the Arctic Ocean. As a result of Obama’s action, those waters will be protected for up to five years.
The 1953 law allows presidents to determine how those waters will be leased for fossil fuel drilling, and because it is a law passed by Congress, it will be harder for President-elect Donald Trump to unilaterally reverse once he is inaugurated next month. However, it’s still possible for Congress to pass legislation to reverse President Obama’s act, and Trump has the authority under the act to set his own five-year plan for oil drilling in Atlantic and Arctic waters.
If his cabinet is any indicator, Trump could very likely seek to undo Obama’s environmental legacy in his first year. Scott Pruitt, whom Trump tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has previously sued the EPA over several environmental regulations instituted under the Obama administration, like his rules for existing coal-burning power plants. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, whom Trump nominated as the next Secretary of the Department of Energy, also sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners — the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Past administrations, like those of Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and Dwight Eisenhower have previously used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect sections of the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific Oceans, though their actions all came with a timetable of roughly a decade or so.