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Obama preparing for his live Q&A session on Twitter. Image: Twitter/@POTUS

There’s a storm brewing after Obama’s first @POTUS Q&A

It’s been almost two weeks since President Barack Obama picked up his own Twitter handle and started interacting with the Twitterverse. Though activity on @POTUS has been sporadic, the president set aside time Thursday for a question and answer session regarding climate change over the social media platform. But some of his responses are making waves.

When asked by one user why he gave the go-ahead on drilling in the arctic given his clear concern about climate change, Obama gave a three-part response that has environmentalists worried.

These responses have not gone over well with environmentalists. Those who take umbrage with Obama’s response believe that the president is misrepresenting the situation, particularly when it comes to preventing oil exploration completely, according to The Guardian.

Cassady Sharp, a member of Greenpeace, believes that not only is stopping oil exploration in the Arctic possible, but the power to do so lies in the hands of the president himself. “He is skirting around the issue, making it look like the decision [to allow Shell into the US Arctic for drilling] is not in his hands, when it is,” Sharp told The Guardian.

According to ThinkProgress, it is within Obama’s power to withdraw the Arctic from oil exploration altogether. The project director for National Resources Defense Council’s Alaska Project, Niel Lawrence, told ThinkProgress that the president could use the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to deny leases in the region, the same law that allowed Obama to protect Bristol Bay.

However, as ThinkProgress also points out, if a moratorium on exploration and production in the Arctic were in action, it would likely lead to court cases immediately that would require the Obama administration to prove why the moratorium is necessary. “The precedent for such a thing would not be in the administration’s favor,” ThinkProgress reports. “In 2011, a New Orleans judge found the Obama administration acted in contempt by continuing its deepwater drilling moratorium following the BP oil spill, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.”

Even stating that the Obama administration is “setting the highest possible standards” for drilling in the Arctic has caused ire.  Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel with the non-profit organization Oceana, told The Guardian that the approval process for Shell to proceed has been a “fundamental failure of government.”

“The Department of Interior is rushing at Shell’s behest,” LeVine said.

The department “has proposed new prevention and response rules, but at the same time it has conditionally authorized Shell to proceed before those conditions are final,” he said.

Unfortunately for Obama, his assertions about high standards was further undermined Thursday when the national Transportation Safety Board released a report revealing Shell’s “inadequate assessment of risk” for towing one of its vessels to the Gulf of Alaska. According to The Guardian, reports have also surfaced of Shell rigs failing routine inspections in more forgiving climates this year, and environmentalists are concerned that exploratory drilling will be well under way before necessary safety checks have been completed by a third-party auditor.

Although environmentalists have remained nonplussed with the president’s approach to Arctic drilling, as demonstrated by the thousands of protesters who flocked to Seattle to stop Shell’s drilling rigs from docking, it is clear that Obama takes global warming quite seriously. The president, along with other government officials, consider climate change a national security issue. When asked about why climate change posed a threat to the nation’s safety, Obama linked it to the “likelihood of global conflict.”

Like the pope, Obama believes that world leaders have a moral obligation to protect the planet for those who are most impacted by swift and severe changes in climate.

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