Trump should reverse Obama’s ban on Arctic offshore energy development

alaska dispatch newsAlaska Dispatch News | January 18, 2017 | Mead Treadwell

The last-minute decision by President Obama to indefinitely ban any future offshore energy activity in the U.S. Arctic should be reversed by President Trump, soon — within the first 100 days of his term.

Why? Obama’s decision was taken with no public comment or consultation ahead of time. Resources worth more than $1 trillion at today’s low prices were put off limits to human use. Large supplies of natural gas, mankind’s “bridge fuel” to lower-carbon power, including recent discoveries, were locked away — while Russian Arctic gas, much further away from world markets, continues its march toward production. Take away development and the effect is to dampen Arctic research, monitoring and infrastructure development — things we need to establish leadership in this newly accessible ocean.

But there’s one more reason the ban should not stand: It was probably illegal.   The state of Alaska’s equities in law were never met. This can be rectified by court decisions if the state challenges it in court — but America’s energy future is too important to tie up for years in litigation.

Only a few months ago, I — a pro-production, pro-conservation Republican — would have said that President Obama executed an Arctic policy based on balance. I joined an October Atlantic Council conference where a senior White House official publicly noted that “responsibly developing Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with United States’ ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to developing domestic energy resources.”

And yet in the space of eight weeks the White House performed a stunning about-face, first removing the Arctic from the next offshore leasing program, and then delivering the coup-de-grace by killing any prospect of future development. Suddenly the Arctic ecosystem was simply too fragile to even consider domestic energy development, irrespective of past exploration. We had adopted a “drain Russia first” energy policy for the Arctic.

So what changed in the space of those two months? Looking at these decisions, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion than that the White House was reacting to the November election. Under the new reality of President-elect Trump’s stunning victory, the administration decided to toss every land mine it could to slow or prevent oil exploration and production in Arctic waters. It blew up the bridges to the state of Alaska, the Alaska Native community, and to other Arctic nations pursuing offshore development that its own policy had built.

Read the full op-ed here.

Mead Treadwell served as lieutenant governor of Alaska, 2010-2014, and as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, 2001-2010.