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Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 @ 2:34 PM
As President Obama on Tuesday moved to prevent offshore oil and gas exploration in a large swath of waters off Alaska and in the Atlantic Ocean, a dispute quickly broke out about how lasting that drilling ban would actually be, as GOP lawmakers said President-Elect Trump could just reverse the declaration when he takes office in January.
Mr. Obama used a 1953 law known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, to block new drilling leases, "for a time period without specific expiration."
"This withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any future mineral leasing for purposes of exploration, development, or production," the President wrote, extending the drilling ban to almost 4 million acres in the Atlantic Ocean, and well over 100 million acres in the Arctic.
While Democrats in Congress and environmental groups had been urging the President to use his CSLA authority before leaving office, Republicans said it was only a simple executive action by the President, and like his immigration actions, it could be swept away by President-Elect Trump with the stroke of a pen.
"Frankly, this is a cowardly move by a lame duck President," said Rep. Don Young (R-AK).
"The groundwork is already being laid to overturn this terrible decision," Young added.
At issue is whether a future President is bound by an administrative decision of a current President.
Advocates say the law allows President Obama to block future drilling, but it doesn't go the other way - that no future President could un-do that declaration.
That is disputed by the GOP, and recent evidence seems to be in their corner. Here is their argument:
The language of the actual law states:
"The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf."
While Democrats said that a President Trump could not reverse the Obama declaration, past experience tells a different story.
For example in 1998, President Bill Clinton extended through 2012 an offshore drilling ban put in place by President George H.W. Bush - but in 2008, President George W. Bush cut four years off of that Clinton proclamation.
In his order issued in July of 2008, Mr. Bush used the language "without specific expiration" - in other words, no time limit - that same language was used in today's order by President Obama.
"I hereby withdraw from disposition by leasing for a time period without specific expiration," Mr. Obama ordered.
Both Presidents cited provision 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act from 1953 to do the exact opposite thing - Obama taking certain lands away from possible drilling, Bush making the areas eligible again for oil and gas exploration.
That rationale was cited by one key energy group, the American Petroleum Institute, as it urged President-Elect Trump to overturn the Obama move.
"We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision," the API said in a news release, as the group argued for a "forward-looking offshore energy plan."