Stop the government’s giveaway to Big Oil


America’s national dialogue on energy and the environment increasingly makes little sense. As mentioned here many times, President Obama’s approach is schizophrenic — talking action on climate change out of one side of his mouth while caving to Big Oil on critical issues out of the other. The biggest problem is our Republican Congress — which tilts the scales heavily towards the sides of the big corporations. It’s hard to believe in this time of increasing awareness about global warming, with 2015 on track to be the hottest year since humans begin taking records, but the Senate just began debating a huge giveaway to the fossil-fuel industry.

The centerpiece, and the jewel in the crown as far as the oil lobby is concerned, is greatly expanded offshore drilling and elsewhere — an action that that creates the severe risk of another Deepwater Horizon-sized catastrophe in areas such as the Carolinas that have never faced this threat in the past. But the bill recently introduced by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — a state that’s long been in the thrall of Big Oil — goes much farther than that. Among other things, the measure would make it legal for America to again become an oil exporter, which would expose the public to oil spills and other hazards so that corporate executives and shareholders could make huge profits selling our natural resources to China, India, and elsewhere: Here’s a good analysis of what that measure would do, from the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Assumes We Are Stuck with Oil: Simply put, there is no need to drill our coasts for energy security. And the oil industry knows it. That is why it is dead set on lifting the crude-oil-export ban so it can ship its product overseas. The clean energy economy is booming and U.S. oil consumption has already reversed course. And we can do more. By continuing to advance efficiency and implement new transportation policies designed to reduce driving and accelerate electric vehicle sales, the U.S. could save nearly the same amount of oil, in a single year, as the Interior Department estimates can ever be recovered from drilling all our offshore waters from Florida to Maine. Moreover, even if Arctic and Atlantic offshore oil and gas were made immediately available, the current oil glut means we wouldn’t need it. And we won’t need it the near future because of the explosive growth in clean energy and effective fuel efficiency. And of course in the long term the only possible justification for drilling in these areas is to assume a total failure to address climate change.

Makes Climate Change Worse: Eliminating the crude-oil-export ban and vastly expanding offshore drilling will increase the carbon pollution that drives climate disruption. According to international scientific consensus we have already discovered four times as much fossil fuel as can be burned in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change–and that does not include the oil and gas in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The oil industry may claim that Arctic and Atlantic oil will be needed in the next 30 years, but this assumes continued oil-dependence scenarios that the International Energy Agency says will result in three times the global warming the planet can sustain. It also assumes no technological innovations or policies are enacted to further cut demand. If we are serious about our obligation to protect this and future generations from increased rates of asthma attacks and respiratory disease, degraded air quality, and more frequent, costly, and deadly extreme weather events, we must do better than accept the oil industry’s dangerous wish list. We must instead continue to invest in the renewable energy and energy efficiency policies that are already showing real results in moving beyond oil.

These are just two of a half-dozen flaws in what the NRDC rightly calls an extreme measure.  The environmental group notes that an offshore oil spill of comparable size to the Deepwater Horizon would potentially soil 1,000 miles of prime coastline, an area stretching from Savannah as far north as Boston. And such a spill would devastate two of the most important industries in the mid-Atlantic region — fishing and tourism. The bill is also economically flawed, it argues — diverting too much of the revenue from this proposed oil windfall to the states.

The NRDC is urging citizens to call their U.S. senators — the switchboard number at the Capitol is 202-224-3121 — and lobby them to reject this backward-looking measure. To me, that’s just the start. Bang on pots and pans, whatever it takes to let Washington know that this Big Oil giveaway is a form of suicide, for their careers and for the planet. Defeating this measure will turn a potential tragedy into an historic triumph.

Learn more about why the Big Oil giveaway is a terrible mistake by reading:

For more on how America can have a smarter energy policy, check out my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved


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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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