Latest on the Arctic: Good news and bad news from the Obama administration

by Guest Blogger

January 27, 2015

A young polar bear (Ursus maritimus) wanders on ice, seen from the Greenpeace ship during an expedition to document the lowest sea ice level on record.

© Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace

First, the good news.

On Sunday, President Obama announced proposals for what so many environmental advocates have been waiting for: expanded protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge), situated at the north end of Alaska. That means no oil drilling–at least for now–across more than 12 million acres of Arctic wilderness.

The bad news? Just two days later, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced its offshore drilling plan for 2017-2022. The plan proposes lease areas throughout U.S. oceans, including Alaskas Arctic seas.

Caribou in AlaskaAlaska-Karibu

Caribou in Alaska.

The dual decisions send a conflicting message from the Obama administration. Sundays Refuge announcement sets an important precedent for the Arctic as a pristine place that must be off limits to fossil fuel extraction. However, Tuesdays proposal from the DOI (an agency of the White House) suggests that Obamas commitment to Arctic preservation is not so solid.

President Obama and the global scientific community know that the best safeguard against catastrophic climate change is to keep fossil fuels, like Arctic oil, in the ground, said Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard.

In the same week the Obama administration proposes wilderness protection for 12 million acres in the Arctic National Refuge, the Department of Interior announces they are putting the Arctic on the auction block.

President Obama can’t save the Arctic on Sunday just to sell it to the highest bidder on Tuesday.”

The Refuge provides critical habitat for Arctic animals, including such iconic wildlife as the polar bear and caribou. The Refuge also includes the home of the Gwich’in and Inupiat native groups, who hunt caribou.

Tuesdays lease proposal does impact Greenpeaces Arctic campaign, because it potentially expands drilling already being pursued by Shell through a previous lease.

However, Shells drilling attempts have proved disastrous from the start, and bode for scary possibilities if the DOI opens up more of the Arctic for drilling. In fact, the Obama Administrations own experts report that if oil is produced in the Chukchi Sea the chances of a large oil spill by Shell are 75 percent!

UN Polar Emergency Panel in NY

Caroline Cannon, Inupiat leader,speaks at Greenpeace’s “The Polar Emergency” event.

Unsurprisingly, polluter favorite Senator Lisa Murkowski, and new chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, responded negatively to the Refuge announcement, saying she would fight back with every resource at our disposal against the proposal. Oil and gas companies rank among Murkowskis top donors.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said there are places too special to drill in the administrations offshore drilling announcement, when in fact the entire Arctic is too special to drill.

President Obama must stop offshore Arctic drilling–starting with canceling Shell’s drilling plans this spring, and any new leases from DOI.

Want to do something? Sign the petition calling on President Obama to #SavetheArctic and halt any Arctic drilling!

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