Obama Unchained: Arctic Refuge Edition

The newly re-energized Obama Administration is making another bold executive move, this time to protect the Arctic:

The Obama administration will propose setting aside more than 12 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the White House announced Sunday, halting any chance of oil exploration for now in the refuge’s much-fought-over coastal plain and sparking a fierce battle with Republicans, including the new chair of the Senate Energy Committee.

The Obama Administration seems intent on making its mark and avoiding lame duck status on many fronts, but climate change and the environment seem to be its biggest focus. President Obama, conscious of his legacy, seems to understand what most Republicans do not: that climate change is by far the biggest and most important issue on which historians will judge his presidency. And he’s making the right moves, forcing Republicans into the uncomfortable corner of defending big oil and its allies in an environment where public opinion is shifting against those interests.

The oil companies and Republicans, of course, are crying foul, claiming that the Administration is behaving tyrannically and against the spirit of bipartisanship:

Oil industry officials decried the proposed limits as another example of the administration’s regulatory excesses. “Today’s announcement is the perfect bookend to the president’s State of the Union speech last Tuesday in its utter disregard for the midterm election results and disdain for a Republican-controlled Congress,” said Stephen Brown, vice president of federal government affairs for the petroleum refiner and marketer Tesoro Corp. “There is no longer any pretext of bipartisanship — just this ‘my way or the highway’ approach.”

Perhaps they should have thought of that when they used every intransigent blockade in the book to stymie progress toward a renewable future, and used all their economic might to defeat Democrats in midterms and elect Mitt Romney. The Obama Administration has no legislative incentive or legacy incentive to do anything the oil industry wants. So they might as well do the right thing.

Fortunately, they seem to be doing just that.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.