Obama Expected to Ban Offshore Drilling in Some Federal Waters



WASHINGTON — President Obama is expected to announce as soon as Tuesday that he will use his executive authority to permanently ban new offshore drilling in parts of federally owned waters off the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic Ocean, according to people familiar with the decision.

Mr. Obama, who is searching for ways to bolster his environmental legacy in the last days of his administration, is expected to use a provision in the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban the drilling, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because plans for the announcement were not yet final.

The 1953 law, which governs how the executive branch uses and leases federal waters for offshore energy exploration, includes a provision that allows presidents to put those waters off-limits to oil and gas drilling. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton used the law to protect sections of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, but those protections came with time limits, usually one to two decades.

It is possible that Mr. Obama could use the law to try to permanently protect far wider areas from drilling, said people familiar with his plans, but they stressed that his plans were not yet final.

The use of his executive authority would come as President-elect Donald J. Trump speaks of aiming to undo much of Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy, particularly Environmental Protection Agency rules to combat climate change and Interior Department rules to slow or more heavily regulate drilling, mining and hydraulic fracturing on public lands.

Mr. Trump could easily roll back executive orders and a handful of new environmental regulations, but some protections will be far more difficult to undo.

Environmental advocates have urged Mr. Obama to use the existing authority of the 1953 offshore drilling law to create new environmental protections in federal waters, saying that it would come with the weight and authority of law, rather than an easily reversible executive action.

Under that law, every president puts forth periodic five-year plans laying out how the waters of the nation’s outer continental shelf may be leased for drilling or protected. Mr. Obama’s most recent five-year plan put the entire Atlantic and portions of the Arctic coast off-limits to drilling. But Mr. Trump could easily open them up in his five-year plan.

Using a separate provision of the law to block drilling for far longer would be subject to lawsuits.

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