Trump should diversify our energy portfolio – not double-down on fossil fuels
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President Obama has made incredible strides during his administration to establish the United States as a leader in addressing climate change, both here at home and abroad. From directing all federal agencies to consider climate change a natural security threat, to regulating greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Power Plan, and leading the effort to bring the Paris Agreement to fruition, he has led by example.

Recently, he took another major step in solidifying his legacy on climate change by announcing that the Beaufort and Chukchi leases in the Arctic will be removed from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. The decision represents a dramatic course-correction by the administration which had indicated as recently as this spring that it would allow development at these sites to continue, even while halting future drilling at sites along the Atlantic.

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Unfortunately, President-elect Trump’s selection of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of State and oil and gas enthusiast and climate denier Ryan Zinke to head the Interior Department send a signal that his administration is interested in pursuing fossil fuel profits at any cost – possibly including an effort to undo the president’s drilling ban. While the legal feasibility of such an undertaking may be up for debate, overturning Obama’s drilling ban would be disastrous for many reasons.

There is perhaps no other place on Earth that shows the scars of climate change as acutely as the Arctic. In fact, global warming is changing the makeup of the landscape as we know it. Sea ice is rapidly diminishing, leading to rising sea-levels, leaving majestic wildlife like polar bears and arctic foxes stranded and starving, and threatening the survival of coastal Arctic communities.

Expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean would not only accelerate the decline of this fragile ecosystem, it would leave it exposed to the threat of a catastrophic oil spill, which would be particularly devastating in an area with terrain as remote and unforgiving as the Arctic.

The depletion of the polar ice caps has also made the region more accessible and attractive to countries looking to expand shipping and other commercial activities, raising security concerns in the process. Increased drilling would place greater demands on the resources of our military -- all for the sake of protecting an energy source that is both difficult to develop and unsustainable in the long-term.

Even if one were to ignore the arguments about the climate and security risks posed by oil and gas development in the Arctic, the fact remains that it just doesn’t make sense from a practical perspective. Shell’s failure to successfully extract oil from sites in the Arctic last year raised questions about the sheer viability of the area as a major fuel source. The region also lacks infrastructure; once you consider the challenge of fortifying rigs to withstand the volatile and unstable conditions posed by extreme weather, the costs of doing business become astronomical. And to what end?

If we are serious about pursuing energy development that is sustainable and will help us meet both our domestic energy needs and international commitments forged in Paris, our path forward must strike a balance between our economy and our environment.  The Obama administration’s decision to remove the Beaufort and Chukchi lease sales from the 5-year leasing plan means that there will be greater resources available to dedicate to developing energy the smart way, right here at home.

As the Trump administration grapples with how to chart a course for our nation’s energy development during its first 100 days, it would be wise to jettison any plans to overturn the Arctic drilling ban. It must recognize competing interests and make strategic choices. Just as an investment advisor would recommend diversifying your financial portfolio, we must take the same approach with our energy portfolio.  As a major economy, we need a strategic, diversified approach to energy development. That means continuing to invest in clean energy and balancing our economic interests with our precious natural resources.

Over the last eight years, not only have we reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but we have also grown our economy.  Making strides to develop cleaner energy domestically will allow us to lead by example in the global community and harness innovative efforts in the private sector, while we continue our efforts to make communities more resilient and less dependent on the fossil fuels that have created so much instability and conflict.

As a nation, we’ve never been better positioned than we are now to take control of our energy future and set ourselves on the path to long-term sustainability. We cannot afford to turn the clock back now.

Duane Muller is the Founder and President of The Playa Group, LLC, and the former Senior Climate Change Specialist for the U.S. Agency for International Development.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.