Is Obama an Environmentalist or Not?

The green light for Shell’s offshore drilling in Alaska: But wasn’t the president an environmentalist?

Barack Obama is possibly the American president with the greenest political agenda: He has prioritized the issue of climate change and has been making progress with his fight to reduce greenhouse gases. And that’s not all. When he reached the White House, he immediately developed the green economy as a way of re-launching the American economy. From this point of view, he could be called an environmentalist.

But Obama can’t be given that title because he has made decisions that counter this view. The latest, according to The New York Times, could jeopardize his (political) environmental legacy.

Offshore Drilling in Alaska

Shell has been given authorization for offshore drilling in the waters off the Alaskan coast, in the Chukchi Sea. The oil company bought the license in 2008, paying just over $1 billion. This was still during the era of George W. Bush. Six years later, Barack Obama’s government has not found the essential legal challenge to halt this operation. And so, they got the go-ahead, a green light that will endanger one of the most pristine natural areas in the USA.

It’s a fear that has been made public by environmental groups, too. It would seem paradoxical, but even other oil companies have halted, faced with these risks and the costs that safeguarding the operation would entail. Shell, on the other hand, would have already invested at least $6 billion in a zone that is claimed to be oil-rich. We are talking about billions of barrels of oil, a quantity of black gold that is comparable to what the United States consumes over a four-year period.

The issue is that, if something serious happens, an oil spill like after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the damage to the ecosystem in that area would be enormous. The costs of a mistake would be very high. Those Arctic waters are home to a huge fish population, a source of sustenance for the native populations in the area. Everyone would be affected.

America’s Energy Independence

This is not the first time that Obama has given permission for new offshore oil drilling near American coasts. He had already done so with some protected areas in the Atlantic Ocean, and he was challenged by environmentalists for this, too. He had done so in view of an energy policy aimed at being progressively less dependent on foreign oil (in particular Saudi oil). With U.S. production of shale gas, the United States is getting closer to its objective.

So far, Obama’s energy policy and environmental policy have been balanced, with neither one having more weight than the other. The concession to Shell has changed things. Now, the “greenest” president risks giving way to a president who is prepared to endanger nature for the sake of America’s energy independence (without taking into account the profit of the big oil companies).

Obama should explain this apparent contradiction or (genetic) mutation of his policies. His (political) environmental legacy risks sinking into the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea.

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