WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration's decision to allow Shell to begin exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic, even as the United States took the helm of the Arctic Council and put climate change atop the council's agenda.
Environmental groups have accused the administration of "hypocrisy" when it comes to the Arctic. The Huffington Post's Sam Stein asked Kerry in an interview Thursday whether green-lighting Shell's plans as both Kerry and Obama highlighted the urgency of action on climate change sent a "mixed message."
"Not really," said Kerry, noting that Shell's leases were initially granted before Obama became president. "So the leases existed, and Shell and other companies are going to be drilling somewhere over the course of these next years, because we're not going to suddenly be weaned from oil."
Kerry also said that the oil off the coast of Alaska is "a cleaner oil than others" -- which could be interpreted as a dig at Canada's oil sands, which have a higher greenhouse gas footprint than conventional crude. Whether or not to approve the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to transport Canada's oil to Texas refineries is another major decision facing the Obama administration.
While the U.S. needs to cease its reliance on carbon-based energy "in the long run," ending dependence on oil would not be an immediate possibility, Kerry said. "I think in terms of our efforts to begin the move to a de-carbonized economy, it's going to take 20, 30, 40 years," he said. "I'd rather have our supply come from an American-controlled source in that respect than somewhere else."
Kerry did acknowledge that the pace of action on climate change has been too slow, but cited the fact that most of the progress during the Obama administration has come through executive order, rather than through Congress, where some members have been reluctant "to even believe it's happening."
"We have to do it much faster than we are right now," said Kerry. "The president understands that, I understand that. We're advocating as powerfully as we can."
To read the full interview, click here.
Video production by Marielle Olentine, Jon Strauss and Samuel Wilkes.