To Secure Climate Legacy, say Groups, Obama Must End Offshore Drilling Leases

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To Secure Climate Legacy, say Groups, Obama Must End Offshore Drilling Leases

'We’re calling on the president to honor his climate change pledges and end future fossil fuel leasing from all federal offshore areas.'

"To cement his climate legacy and honor his administration’s climate goals," said Marissa Knodel of Friends of the Earth, "President Obama should not offer any new leases in the 2017-2022 offshore drilling program and withdraw all federal offshore areas from future leasing." (Image: Center for Biological Diversity)

Demanding the Obama administration align its commitments under the Paris climate agreement with its stated emission-reduction goals, dozens of environmental, indigenous and coastal conservation organizations throughout the country filed a legal petition on Tuesday calling for the end of new offshore oil and gas leases in all federally controlled oceans, including areas in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico.

The petition calls on President Obama to align federal leasing policy with U.S. climate change goals while promoting a rapid transition to a clean-energy economy, starting with a halt in offshore leasing.

Led by the Center for Biological Diversity, the 45-member coalition wants the president, using his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, to issue an executive order that would ban new drilling leases across more than a billion offshore acres. Such a move, the groups say, would prove that Obama is serious in his vow to curb global warming by keeping up to 62 billion tons of carbon emissions in the ground — the pollution equivalent of more than 16,000 coal-fired power plants.

The petition (pdf) comes less than a week after massive protests sought to disrupt a federal auction of offshore leases that took place at the Super Dome in New Orleans and just two weeks after Obama released the government's five-year drilling plan. That plan was applauded for ending industry hopes that drilling would be permitted off the Atlantic Coast, but equally pilloried for retaining sizeable areas for exploration and exploitation in the Gulf and off the Arctic coast of Alaska.

According to the groups:

Despite its name, leases outlined in the five-year program would allow for oil and gas production over the next 40 to 70 years, long past the point that scientists say fossil fuels should be phased out. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels decades into the future undermines a rapid and essential transition to renewable energy. The petition calls on President Obama to align federal leasing policy with U.S. climate change goals while promoting a rapid transition to a clean-energy economy, starting with a halt in offshore leasing.

All told, the American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf, sub-marine areas between 3 and 200 miles off the coast. Included are vast areas beneath Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard.

According to the coalition behind Tuesday's petition, many of whom were also present at the protest in New Orleans last week, the federal five-year plan to expand leasing in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico is a disaster waiting to happen – one that risks more disastrous spills, puts wildlife and communities in harm’s way and deepens U.S. dependence on the fossil fuels that are driving the global climate crisis.

"President Obama recognized oil drilling off the Atlantic coast was a bad idea," said Miyo Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "But the same logic — that we must protect our climate, wildlife and coastal communities from oil spills and carbon emissions — holds true for all ocean coasts. So we’re calling on the president to honor his climate change pledges and end future fossil fuel leasing from all federal offshore areas."

Marissa Knodel of Friends of the Earth, also backing the petition, said the president has more than enough authority to take a bold stance against future offshore drilling. "To cement his climate legacy and honor his administration’s climate goals," said Knodel, "President Obama should not offer any new leases in the 2017-2022 offshore drilling program and withdraw all federal offshore areas from future leasing."

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