Barack Obama is acting quickly to ensure that his climate change legacy will not be undone by Donald Trump’s incoming administration. On Tuesday, he announced a ban on offshore drilling in 98% of federally-owned Arctic ocean waters and in 31 coral canyons in the Atlantic, an area stretching from New England to Virginia.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would also put in place a five-year ban on new licensing in Arctic waters, CBC news reports.
“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said in a statement.
Trump’s team has vowed to roll back some of Obama’s environmental protections and regulations in hopes of sparking a “domestic energy revolution,” AP reports.
But this may be easier said than done.
The new Arctic and Atlantic drilling regulations are drawn from an obscure 1953 law, called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which stipulates that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the Outer Continental Shelf.”
Although the law clearly states that a president can withdraw federal lands from leasing, it says nothing about future administrations’ ability to reinstate those lands.
Experts expect this could lead to a protracted legal battle “that could hold off [Obama’s] successor — or at least keep him at bay for several years,” the New York Times reports.
At least in the short-term, the winners of the Obama’s executive action will be the environment overall, polar bears and bowhead whales that inhabit the now-protected Arctic territories, as well as the deepwater corals and rare fish that populate the Atlantic’s coral canyons.
The move was widely celebrated by environmentalists.
Obama bans oil and gas drilling in large areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean, a move that can't be undone by an incoming president. pic.twitter.com/OOjiYhQyU9— AJ+ (@ajplus) December 20, 2016
BREAKING: President Obama has permanently banned oil & gas drilling in most U.S. Arctic waters and huge portions of the U.S. Atlantic Ocean! pic.twitter.com/SM6tqIFpNT— NRDC (@NRDC) December 20, 2016