US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Tuesday announced a ban on offshore drilling [statement] in almost 120 million acres of federally owned Arctic and Atlantic [memoranda] waters. As a preemptive opposition to President-elect Donald Trump, the goal of the declaration is to “protect the planet we share” [tweet] and to protect the various environmental aspects in these regions, such as endangered and rare species and deep-water corals. Obama made the declaration pursuant to the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act [backgrounder], which states [text, PDF], “The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.” While some believe this language does not authorize the reinstatement of land once it has been withdrawn, others disagree and are urging the future Trump administration to challenge the declaration. Trump has expressed an intent to expand activity like offshore drilling, although something such as a congressional amendment to the law could change how the declaration is challenged.
Environmental concerns have been a major issue in these last years of the Obama administration, and climate change [JURIST backgrounder] has been a controversial issue for many years. Earlier this month the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that an alternate route will be investigated [JURIST report] for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) [information]. While Obama did not dictate this outcome [Hill report], he supported the review of the project and the discussion with local communities considering the significant effect it could have on them. In October the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement [text, PDF] on combating climate change was achieved [JURIST report], and Obama subsequently expressed his thanks [press release] to nations across the world for their commitment. In August 2015 the federal government approved drilling [JURIST report] in the Arctic Continental Shelf while also proposing regulations to ensure the safety of such activities. In March 2015 the US Senate failed to override [JURIST report] Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.