No new oil and gas lease! Hearing on climate and offshore drilling
Through Valerie Cleland
On a House Natural Resources Committee audience this week, committee members focused on the link between offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and US climate goals. It’s clear: continuing to lease offshore oil and gas “business as usual” simply doesn’t put us on track to meet our climate goals.
Every decision our leaders make now must consider a clean energy future, not continue to rely on fossil fuels. And the administration can and must move towards this future by proposing a five-year program with no rental. As a reminder, offshore leasing is regulated by the Home Office through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Every five years, BOEM is tasked with setting up an offshore leasing program that takes into account the effect of leasing on the environment and communities.
This year, BOEM will publish a new five-year program. Rep. Mike Levin of California was right when he said, “I believe the inclusion of any new leases in BOEM’s next five-year plan would be at odds with the administration’s stated climate and environmental justice goals and that is why I urge the administration to move from forward with a five-year lease plan that does not include a new lease. ”
Subcommittee chair Alan Lowenthal laid the groundwork for why this hearing was happening: the climate crisis. The seven hottest years on Earth have all occurred since 2015; there is no doubt that climate change is already here and impacting communities. Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is undoubtedly contributing to climate change, and the last thing oil and gas companies need is more leases. As Rep. Lowenthal pointed out during the hearing, they have already accrued over 9 million acres of leases that they are not using. Ending new rentals in the Gulf and elsewhere in the United States would help reduce global emissions.
“We know that reducing emissions from oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will help reduce overall carbon emissions. Research shows that, on average, eliminating one barrel of US oil supply decreases global supply by about half a barrel. We can successfully reduce oil and gas leasing in the United States without increasing emissions abroad. -Representing. Lowenthal of California
House Democrats have brought in three expert witnesses to testify about the drilling in the Gulf and the associated implications for climate and environmental justice.
Dr. Kristina Dahl, senior climatologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, spoke about the climate crisis, saying: “With the stakes so high, pursuing lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico without taking the time to fully question whether or how permitted mining will fit into our nation’s future is both reckless and irresponsible.
Dr. Beverly Wright, Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, spoke forcefully of what communities in the Gulf have experienced at the hands of the fossil fuel industry: “I have seen and felt firsthand the effects climate change, environmental racism, and policies that favor the oil and gas industry at the expense of the health and safety of black children and families. She linked the health impacts of offshore drilling to petrochemical facilities that impact communities along the Gulf Coast.
Max Sarinsky, senior counsel at the Institute for Policy Integrity, focused his testimony on what the Interior has the discretion to do and the need to use the best models and the best science available, sharing: “In a nutshell , the federal fossil fuel program greatly increases global greenhouse gas emissions, seriously harming current and future generations of Americans” and “the federal government should reform oil and gas leasing to account for climate damages and refocusing land use policy to facilitate a necessary transition to a renewable economy”.
House Republicans have been dragging the same, tired and outdated arguments for continued support for the fossil fuel industry at the expense of climate and communities. Republicans’ denial of the realities of environmental racism and the need to reform our broken federal oil and gas leasing system is deeply troubling.
Representative Donald McEachin of Virginia, a true champion of environmental justice, asked witnesses about ways to move toward an equitable renewable energy future that would create jobs that don’t come at the expense of public health and of the climate. Rep. Katie Porter of California, in her usual style, asked blunt questions about the amount of taxpayer subsidies for both fossil fuel extraction and cleanup. Last year alone we subsidized the oil and gas industry $660 billion.
The theme of this hearing was clear; offshore drilling is contributing to the climate crisis, harming frontline communities, and we cannot continue to rent the Gulf as business as usual. Not only must the Home Office be held accountable for the climate damages and environmental justice implications of new leases, but there is a real opportunity to change what our energy future looks like. As Rep. Levin said, we must “consider how incompatible our federal oil and gas program is with our efforts to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”
Gulf Coast communities and the marine ecosystem are already bearing the brunt of climate change in countless ways, from hurricanes to heat waves to severe human health impacts. As we envision the clean energy future we need, the end of new offshore oil and gas concessions must be part of that conversation. The next step is clear — BOEM must come up with a new five-year lease-free program so we can start moving towards a better future for the Gulf Coast and our climate.
Courtesy of NRDC.
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