Obama Banning Offshore Drilling Is Only One Small Part Of His Impressive Environmental Legacy

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks about the oil markets in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 17, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama announced a plan to increase oversight and crack down on manipulation of the oil markets. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Source: Pete Marovich/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

He may not have too much time left, but the current president is still working hard on behalf of the world that the United States is only a small part of. Barack Obama's action to ban offshore drilling in large swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans is an important step, and fortunately for friends of the environment, it's only a small part of his environmental legacy. 

On Tuesday, Obama announced that he had used a little-known line in the 1953 Outer Continental Shelfs Land Act to unilaterally and permanently ban drilling in much of the federal waters up the Eastern seaboard and around Alaska. While the law has been invoked in smaller cases before, has never gone through a test like this one, so it will undoubtedly face court challenges, which Obama's lawyers feel confident it will survive.

This is far from the only thing that Obama has done to help the ocean, much less the planet as a whole. Just in terms of marine environments alone, Obama has made huge progress. For starters, he created a National Ocean Policy to enable the government to better coordinate to manage care for the waters that are so important to the country and the world. He also created what is now the second-biggest ocean sanctuary in the world around Hawaii, and made another huge one south of Hawaii, to boot. The latter is called the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, and it's just one of the many environmental sites that Obama has protected. 

He's made huge use of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows the president to declare national monuments that will then be protected. Some of these, like the Stonewall National Monument, are more cultural or historical. However, others are aimed at protecting fragile environments. 

He's also done a lot in terms of saving energy in everyday use, mostly by drafting regulations that producers of things like appliances have to follow when they build your fridge or your toaster. But even the energy that does get used now more often comes from a clean source, because Obama invested in clean energy during the recession. No matter what regulations Trump rolls back, he can't undo the technological leaps made by companies like Tesla and Ford. 

Perhaps most importantly, Obama made sure that the U.S. signed onto the Paris accords, which are meant to curb emissions and help to stop climate change as much as possible. The U.S. was part of the final push of nations needed for the accords to go into effect — it needed countries representing 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which it resoundingly got. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris accords, but that could prompt other countries to impose things like carbon tariffs on American goods. Obama can't absolutely make American participation permanent, but he at least did what he could to get the ball rolling — and the rest of the world can try to take it from here. 

The history books will remember Obama for many things, but in the long run, his actions to save the environment could very well end up being some of the most important steps he took. Now, the country and the world can only hope the America's future presidents — including the one set to take office on Jan. 20 — will continue to do the same. 

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