by Gaius Publius
We've written about Obama, his language, his legacy, and his climate change actions here — “Climate Change and Barack Obama’s Legacy” — and in that piece discussed Obama's refusal to completely close public land and waters for fossil fuel extraction. Quoting Farron Cousins:
Under President Obama’s watch, the United States has become the largest fossil fuel producer on the planet when accounting for both oil and liquefied natural gas production. In terms of just crude oil production, the U.S. falls to third place, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Oil and gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) now accounts for 50% of U.S. oil production, and, thanks to the Republican-controlled [but Democratic-enabled] Congress, the 40-year-long ban on crude oil exports was lifted.
Meanwhile, the government is still auctioning offshore oil and gas leases, even after President Obama presided over the largest ever oil spill in U.S. waters. Fracking continues its incredible boom, despite reports showing a rise in human-caused earthquakes related to fracking wastewater injections.
We also noted:
• Federal lands and waters could have accounted for 24 percent of all energy-related GHG emissions in the United States in 2012.
• Combustion of coal from federal lands accounts for more than 57 percent of all emissions from fossil-fuel production on federal lands.
• Methane pollution from venting and flaring from onshore federal leases rose more than 51 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to government data.
All excellent reasons for a legacy-seeking president to end all fossil fuel extraction on publicly held land and waters. Nevertheless, Obama has in the main resisted. Yes, there have been some new restriction of offshore drilling in the new five-year plan, but only to drilling in the Atlantic Ocean — that is, off the wealth-populated eastern seaboard.
Now come nearly 70 environmental organizations to ask that he do just that — end all offshore drilling. From the Sierra Club press release (my emphasis):
Nearly 70 Organizations Call on President Obama to Protect the Gulf of Mexico
Groups Call for the Gulf to be Excluded from the Five Year Plan
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
New Orleans, LA — Today, nearly 70 groups sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to build on his climate legacy and remove the Gulf of Mexico from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and immediately initiate a plan to transition the region away from a fossil fuel economy and towards one powered by clean energy.
In the latest draft of the five year offshore drilling plan released in March, the Obama administration removed leases in the Atlantic Ocean, but kept in leasing for the the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
As of 2016, more than 20 million acres of the Gulf have been leased to the oil and gas industry, and the 2017-2022 leasing plan, in its current state, will open it up further. Currently, approximately 80 percent of the previously leased acreage has yet to be developed.
Groups point to significant environmental impacts felt throughout the Gulf as a result of offshore drilling, noting numerous pipeline bursts, spills, and rig failures that have inundated the waters with oil and toxins, as well as onshore effects leveled by the petrochemical industry against communities of color across the region.
The letter calls for fossil fuel operations to be replaced with a clean energy alternative: wind. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Gulf of Mexico has the potential to generate 5,000 MW of wind power by 2030, supporting more than 20,000 full-time jobs.
Barack Obama is being challenged to choose. Does he want to protect the high-wealth eastern seaboard only and let the oil-and-gas industry risk trashing the less wealthy Gulf states (see map above)? Or does he want to save the coastal and offshore environment for all the citizens of the U.S. — and indeed of the world?
Is he counting on half measures to fully guarantee his legacy? I guess that depends on what you take his legacy needs to be, including the need for big-money donors like those mentioned here.
More simply: Does Barack Obama himself have the courage he called for? Or will that be his legacy, that he did not?
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis