As for the Arctic refuge, the oil companies are hardly tripping over one another to bid for leases. Why should they? Demand is low, prices are low and an industry that has already begun writing down some assets as possibly unrecoverable in a climate-conscious world would undoubtedly prefer to drill in the friendlier climates of, say, West Texas. Then there’s the matter of money. Increasingly conscious of climate risk, major investment banks — including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — have promised not to finance drilling in the refuge, and, in some cases, the entire Arctic. That would seem to leave the field, and the prospect of unending negative publicity, to big outfits like Exxon and Chevron.
Litigation is virtually certain. Environmental groups and states’ attorneys general now mobilizing for court action say that the Interior Department downplayed the potential damage to wildlife and the risks to the climate of unearthing the 10 billion or so barrels the department says the refuge contains.
So far, the federal courts have not been friendly to the administration. They rejected Mr. Trump’s attempt to overturn Mr. Obama’s executive action protecting Arctic waters in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from drilling, as well as his meddling in the Tongass, and derailed, at least for now, his plan to revive the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. And the courts could still overturn Mr. Trump’s effort to repeal Mr. Obama’s monument designations.
The biggest roadblock to Mr. Trump’s vaulting anti-environment and anti-regulatory ambitions would, of course, be Joe Biden, should he win the November election and the Democrats capture the Senate. As president, Mr. Biden would have several weapons at his disposal. He could use the complex Congressional Review Act to overturn initiatives that Mr. Trump was unable to complete in time, possibly including the recent weakening of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act’s regulations. And he would almost certainly seek to replace Mr. Trump’s executive orders and rules with his own, a laborious though necessary process.
And he can move forward with his own agenda. The centerpiece, as of now, would be his sprawling $2 trillion plan to tackle climate change with ambitious deadlines, a more measured approach to drilling on public lands (he’d leave the Arctic alone) and big investments in energy efficient buildings, clean fuels and clean cars.
Look closely, and there’s something else important in that massive document and in Mr. Biden’s speeches: evidence of a wholly different mind-set toward the relationship between humans and the natural world. Mr. Biden would, for instance, oppose the Alaskan gold mine, set aside nearly one-third of America’s land and water for protection, establish new monuments and national parks, move aggressively to restore the Everglades and clean up the Great Lakes. In sum: a new and welcome environmental ethic in the Oval Office.