Before leaving office, President Obama has been busy tidying up the White House. Over the last month or so, the president issued a slew of executive orders, seemingly aimed at slowing Donald Trump’s plan to bulldoze the current president’s achievements.
With regard to climate change and the environment, President Obama has been especially ambitious. Today, he signed an executive order to protect part of Alaska’s Arctic known as the Northern Bering Sea.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Northern Bering Sea is one of the world’s major fisheries, yet is an epicenter for the effects of global warming, where temperatures have uncharacteristically fluctuated over the last several decades. Relatively recently, retreating ice (partly due to rising ocean temperatures) has negatively impacted a number of species by disrupting entire ecosystems and foodchains, ranging from clams to walruses to humans.
The action will enforce an existing agreement that gives Alaska Native tribes a voice in deciding how Alaska’s federal lands are used. It will also designate a climate resilience area in a 112,300-square-mile portion of the Northern Bering Sea, and halt oil leases in two offshore regions—totalling 40,300 square miles—that are valuable to wildlife and indigenous communities.
The climate resilience area charges agencies with with overseeing activities “with attention to the rights, needs, and knowledge of Alaska Native tribes; the delicate and unique ecosystem; the protection of marine mammals, fish, seabirds, and other wildlife; and with appropriate coordination with the State of Alaska.”
Each of these regulations will be managed by a taskforce co-chaired by the Department of the Interior, NOAA, and the US Coast Guard.
For President Obama, the Arctic has been an obvious passion point. In November, he signed a five year energy plan, issued by the Department of the Interior, that would halt oil exploration in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, threatening to bring drilling to a standstill in the region. He’s also attempted, unsuccessfully, to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, which would give the refuge the highest level of federal protection.
The new executive order “closely mirrors requests brought to the White House this year by the Association of Village Council Presidents, Kawerak Inc. and the Bering Sea Elders Group,” wrote Alaska Dispatch News. In 2015, Obama became the first sitting US president to visit the Arctic, touring Inupiat communities to hear their concerns about global warming’s impact on their livelihood.
Since President-elect Trump made it clear he intends to undo “job-killing” environmental rules, many suspect that President Obama is using his executive authority to gridlock Congress during future climate change-related decisions.
This week, Trump appointed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and just announced Cathy McMorris, chair of the House Republican Conference, as Secretary of the Interior. Both are staunch oil and gas supporters who have opposed environmental regulations, and will undoubtedly do Trump’s bidding when it comes to tearing down policies that threaten fossil fuel interests.
It’s impossible to know how the Trump Administration will attack President Obama’s climate change rules, but Trump will certainly have the ability to revoke existing executive orders—that’s the downside to any president exercising this power. Many have speculated that it won’t be easy for Trump to undo these initiatives, though. At the very least, Obama’s final climate change decisions signal to environmentalists where to focus their attention during the next four years.
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from Obama’s New Executive Order Protects Alaska’s Arctic From Future Drilling