Alaska Delegation Mulls Legislation To Stop Obama Drilling Ban

The Hill — Congressional Republicans and their oil industry allies are gearing up to fight President Obama’s new bans on oil drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

Two Alaska lawmakers are exploring whether they should propose legislation to overturn Obama’s actions.

Spokesmen for Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, both Alaska Republicans, said the lawmakers would consider proposing legislation to help President-elect Donald Trump overturn the bans if necessary.

The legislation could either authorize the president to undo any prior offshore protections, or simply overturn the specific bans from Obama.

“The Congressman believes this decision can be overturned by the incoming Administration and will be encouraging President Trump to do so. In addition, Congressman Young will also pursue legislation to overturn this decision,” Matt Shuckerow, Young’s spokesman, told The Hill.

With both sides in the fight bracing for the long haul, and for the likelihood that it could end up in the courts, the lawmakers want to make Congress’s views clear.

“Ambiguities in the law will create an opportunity for litigation by the very extreme environmental groups that President Obama was pandering to,” said Mike Anderson, Sullivan’s spokesman. “It doesn’t mean their litigation would succeed, but just as with any number of actions the new administration might undertake, Congress can buttress those decisions with statutory support.”

Obama declared Tuesday that that most of the United States’s portion of the Arctic Ocean would indefinitely be closed to drilling, along with 31 undersea canyons on the edge of the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean.

The actions are a major step further than Obama’s previous efforts to block Arctic and Atlantic drilling. He removed both from the calendar of new drilling lease sales between 2017 and 2022. That action was only temporary though, and one Trump could reverse.

But for the indefinite bans, Obama invoked a measure in a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). Presidents have invoked the so-called 12(a) authority before, but usually to protect smaller areas for a limited period of time.

Obama’s more expansive action has both supporters and opponents in uncharted waters and looking for any advantage in the fight ahead.

“It’s pretty much unknown territory right now,” said Deborah Sivas, an environmental law professor at Stanford University Law School who has studied the provision Obama used. “I don’t think anything analogous to this has occurred before. It’s just a black box.”

There’ll also be pressure on President-elect Donald Trump to help roll back the ban.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment about Obama’s Tuesday decision. But on the campaign trail, he repeatedly made public lands and waters a central piece of his energy platform, vowing to open them up for more oil and natural gas development.

“Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America’s fossil fuel producers, the Trump administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters,” his transition website says.

Trump also plans to nominate Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) to lead the Interior Department, which oversees offshore drilling. Zinke also supports additional fossil fuel development on public lands and waters.

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