On backing down, backing away, and backing into a corner . . .
President Obama’s statement, “I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago,” was one the more awkward sentences in his State of the Union speech, and not just syntactically.
Some good things happened this last week at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, but the sense of urgency to protect the world’s last great wilderness from the ravages of resource extraction – and to slow Arctic warming and melting – was lacking.
Here's the latest on the Obama administration's approach to oil drilling in the Arctic seas.
In July, a court agreed with Earthjustice lawyers that a hastily approved federal oil development plan for the Chukchi Sea is illegal. The court said the Interior Department simply ignored gaps in scientific data about the natural areas and wildlife about to be disturbed by drilling rigs without making any attempt to determine whether the missing information might be important or could be obtained from other sources.
Interior and its Minerals Management Service (renamed to escape the stigma of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) readily admit that they don't know much about almost every species of sea bird, migratory water fowl, seals and whales, not to mention polar bears, that would be affected by oil and gas development in the Chukchi.
Rather than take the hint, however, Interior now takes the position that oil drilling should go forward anyway because they would have approved it regardless of the scientific data. Interior Sec. Salazar's recent directive that the department's decisions be based on the best science available, rather than political pressure, seems not to have reached BOEMRE's Alaska office. We'll help get the word to them.