- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2016

President Obama is expected to take executive action as early as Tuesday to permanently ban new offshore drilling in federally owned waters off the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic Ocean, according to sources familiar with the decision.

Mr. Obama is expected to use a section of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, a 1953 law, to ban the drilling. The law includes a provision that allows a president to put certain waters off-limits to oil and gas production.

Environmental activists have been urging the administration to take such action before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month. The National Resources Defense Council said Mr. Obama “has an unprecedented opportunity to rack up important environmental gains.”

“And with President-elect Donald Trump — who calls climate change a hoax and plans to dramatically expand fracking, coal mining and oil drilling — taking office in January, these last days are more critical than ever,” the group said.

Using the so-called 12(a) provision of the 1953 law to ban drilling in U.S. territorial waters would likely draw a legal challenge, and Mr. Trump could rescind such an order. But activists say a court case could take years to resolve.

California Gov. Jerry Brown last week also asked Mr. Obama to ban drilling in the Pacific Ocean off the state’s coast.

“Millions of people around the world will be grateful to President Obama for permanently protecting much of the Arctic and the Atlantic coasts from catastrophic oil exploration and development,” Greenpeace spokesperson Travis Nichols said in a statement.

Lucas Frances of the Arctic Energy Center, a group funded by oil and gas interests, said its research shows that about three-quarters of Native-group respondents in Alaska support offshore energy.

“If reports are true, and taken with last week’s news that sales of Beaufort Sea and North Slope leases generated $18 million, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama administration is playing politics with the future of Alaska,” he said.

Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of the environmental group Oceana, said the move by Mr. Obama would be “a smart business decision, based on science and facts.”

“This decision would help to protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods,” she said. “East Coast communities and businesses that depend on a healthy ocean would finally be able to rest assured that they will be spared from the worst impacts of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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