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House Dems Urge Obama to Prevent Offshore Leasing in Arctic, Atlantic

A coalition of lawmakers in the House of Representatives asked President Obama Wednesday to permanently remove the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from future offshore oil and gas leasing.

The lawmakers, led by Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Jared Huffman (D-CA), urged Obama to use his authority under section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently remove the Arctic and Atlantic from federal leasing.

“The United States must continue to lead the fight against global warming not only by committing to clean energy alternatives, but also by closing the door on new, dangerous and environmentally harmful fossil fuel extraction,” the lawmakers wrote. “Protecting the Atlantic and Arctic coastlines against future oil and gas extraction would send a powerful signal to the world that the United States is fully committed to delivering on our climate commitments.”

The lawmakers noted that past presidents “have used section 12(a) to protect hundreds of millions of marine acres, some for defined time periods and others in perpetuity. Notably absent from section 12(a) is authority for a successor president to undo a permanent withdrawal.

“We believe that forever withdrawing the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans from leasing, reflecting the strong public interest in stemming climate change and protecting our coasts, is a particularly appropriate use of the statute’s broad and clear terms.”

National Ocean Industries Association spokeswoman Nicolette Nye told NGI via email Friday that the lawmakers’ proposal “would be short-sighted given predicted increasing energy demand both in the United States and globally.

“Even with continued growth of renewable energy production, government projections show that fossil fuels will still supply about 80% of energy consumed in the U.S. in 2040. Permanently withdrawing” the Atlantic and Arctic from federal leasing “would put the U.S. at an economic and energy disadvantage since other countries are expanding their offshore energy portfolios.”

Wednesday’s letter from the House coalition reflects the broader “Keep It in the Ground” movement, which has seen federal agencies come under pressure from environmental groups to halt approval of oil and gas development and infrastructure.

The letter also comes as the Department of the Interior (DOI) has been developing its five-year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. In September, a coalition of industry groups launched an effort to counter pressure from environmental groups and keep the Arctic Ocean in the leasing program (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13).

Earlier this year, former military leaders, including former Defense Department Secretary William Cohen, also urged DOI to keep the Arctic Ocean as part of its leasing program. In a letter to DOI the officials wrote that "excluding the Arctic from the [leasing] program would signal retreat, needlessly reducing U.S. flexibility for promoting our national interests and our ability to ensure international cooperation, including ensuring best practices in Arctic drilling, in this sensitive and increasingly strategic region” (see Daily GPI, June 21).

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