Groups warn offshore drilling undercuts Obama's climate legacy

Environmental groups warned the Obama administration that opening new areas to offshore drilling would undermine the president's climate change agenda.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, 21 green groups urge the administration to exclude the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans from its new five-year lease plan for oil and gas drilling.

"New offshore leasing and drilling is also at odds with fighting climate disruption," the letter sent to Jewell on Thursday states. "President Obama and this Administration have done more to combat climate change than any other in American history."

The Interior Department sent out a request for information in June for oil and gas companies and other stakeholders to weigh in on which areas of the Outer Continental Shelf should be open to drilling from 2017 to 2022. On Wednesday, the department said it would extend the comment period for another 15 days.

Climate change is a central part of Obama's second-term legacy, evident in the extensive public relations push the administration launched this week to bulk up support for the president's carbon pollution rules on existing power plants.

The groups argue that opening up areas like the Atlantic, which has been closed to exploration for roughly 30 years, would jeopardize Obama's climate legacy, and credibility.

"If we are serious about averting an additional 2-degree temperature increase, and avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, we have to keep dirty fuels like oil and gas in the ground, and that should start with protecting fragile areas and areas that have not yet been open to exploration," the letter states.

"The President's work fighting climate disruption must extend to include protecting our coasts and beaches from drilling," it adds.

The green groups also ask the administration to exclude Bristol Bay in Alaska from drilling, and to cancel the existing lease for the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic, preventing Shell from moving forward on future drilling plans.

Opening up new areas would threaten billion-dollar coastal economies, the groups explain, and open fragile ecosystems to possible spills and pollution.

Groups that signed the letter include the Sierra Club, Oceana, Alaska Wilderness League and League of Conservation Voters.