Leahy, Sanders Voice Opposition To Oil Drilling In Arctic Ocean

WASHINGTON, May 27 – Following the recent ecologically devastating oil spill in California coastal waters, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) this week voiced their deep disappointment in the administration’s decision to allow oil drilling in up to six offshore wells in the Arctic Ocean, an area the senators have long sought to protect.  Leahy and Sanders were joined by 16 other senators in a letter warning U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell had "not fully account(ed) for the likelihood of oil spills and the resulting cultural and environmental impacts from fossil fuel development in the Arctic region."

The letter, initiated by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), was sent just as a state of emergency was declared in California and shortly after the fifth anniversary of the devastating Gulf Oil Spill.  The administration recently gave conditional approval to plans by the Shell Oil Company to drill in the Chukchi Sea region of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska.  “Opening development on a new fossil fuel reservoir in the Arctic not only puts the natural resources, ecosystems and the dependent communities at risk, it also contradicts the President’s Climate Action Plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce climate change.  It is an unacceptable and irresponsible decision,” the senators said in their letter.

Leahy and Sanders have often applauded President Obama’s actions to mitigate climate change and to minimize the use of the dirtiest fossil fuels, including the President’s decision earlier this year to veto legislation that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline, and last year’s issuance of clean power plant rules limiting carbon emissions.  But they see the Arctic drilling decision as being ecologically dangerous.  

Leahy said:  “I felt that we needed to call a ‘foul ball’ in this  case, especially coming less than two months after Secretary Jewell joined me at the Leahy Center in Burlington and spoke from the heart about the immediate need for all of us to confront climate change.” 

Sanders said:  “At a time when our planet is warming due to climate change, the last thing our environment needs is more drilling.  What we need is for Congress and the White House to move toward clean energy such as solar, wind and biomass.”

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Senators joining the letter include: Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)