On his way out of office, President Barack Obama is cementing his environmental legacy in ways that will be difficult for his successor to overturn. Today, he and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau banned oil and gas drilling in 115 million acres of the Arctic Ocean and 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic Ocean, in a swath stretching from Maryland to Massachusetts. Earlier in the year, Obama had excluded these areas for a five-year period, but today’s action used a provision in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) that should make the withdrawal permanent.
OCSLA gives the federal government jurisdiction over all submerged lands more than three miles offshore—that is, outside of state coastal waters. It gives the Department of the Interior the ability to lease offshore tracts for oil and natural gas, but its section 12(a) specifically allows the president to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf.” Since there is no provision for a succeeding president to reverse such an order, it is presumed to be permanent.
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