Murkowski's Big Oil Giveaway: Profits Over People

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Murkowski's Big Oil Giveaway: Profits Over People

 Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and a number of her colleagues in Congress have big plans for lifting the export ban on domestic U.S. oil. It's too bad these proposals all equate with cooking the planet with a surge of greenhouse gas emissions the planet can no longer tolerate. (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

This week the Senate Energy Committee will consider a bill that would simultaneously lift the decades old crude-oil-export ban and mandate drilling across a vast swath of the nation's publicly owned ocean waters from the Arctic to the Atlantic coast, and off of the Florida coast as well. Combining these items from the oil industry's wish list into a single bill lifts any thin veil on what some may have hoped would be a measured approach to our energy future from Committee Leadership.

Turning our publicly owned resources over to the oil industry to drill for oil we don't need, so it can then ship the oil overseas, and divert federal dollars to a handful of coastal states to promote more dangerous drilling has very little to do with the public interest. It has everything to do with polluter profits. The bill should be labeled the "Big Oil Giveaway" and represents an extreme proposal to the detriment of our coastal economies, communities, and climate.

Here are six ways the "Big Oil Giveaway" puts oil profits over people and should be rejected:

Extreme By Any Measure: Any expanded offshore drilling is dirty, dangerous, and unnecessary. The three bills included in the "Big Oil Giveaway", however, represent extreme examples of Big Oil's push to plunder public resources at any cost and should give even those who embrace oil extraction serious concerns. S. 1279, S.1276, and S.1278 don't just open vast, important areas of our coasts to oil extraction. Theyalsomandate drilling, thus eliminating public input and due process, all while gutting multiple bedrock environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Each of these proposals also establish revenue distribution schemes that divert funds from the Federal treasury to a handful of coastal states, thus creating little more than a bribe for states to continue this cycle of dangerous drilling.

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 andvastlyexpanding 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.

Devastating Oil Spills: It is clear that there is a very high risk of oil spills, and those spill impacts are severe and persistent. In recent months we've seen evidence of the systemic risk of oil spills, as oil gushed into the Santa Barbara ocean and just this month four more oil spills erupted across the country. A major oil spill off of our Atlantic coast would be devastating. The BP Gulf oil disaster impacted more than 1,000 miles of coastline - an equivalent disaster in the Atlantic could coat beaches stretching from Savannah to Boston. A spill off Virginia's coast could threaten the Jersey Shore. In the Arctic, the Department of Interior's own assessment finds that there is a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill should drilling under existing leases in the Chukchi Sea proceed. Far from any relief and in one of the most challenging environment's on earth, an Arctic spill would be impossible to clean up and devastating to one of the most productive marine ecosystems on Earth.

Threatens Costal Communities, Economies, and Wildlife: Tourism, recreation, and fishing are major contributors to the Atlantic coast's economy and they rely on healthy oceans. In 2012, those sectors alone generated $40 billion in the Mid- and South-Atlantic regions. Ocean tourism and recreational industries supported 76 percent of all Mid-Atlantic and 84 percent of all Southeast Atlantic ocean sector jobs in 2012. While the Arctic is sparsely inhabited, a major spill there would be no less disastrous. The waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are home to one-fifth of the world's polar bears, as well as ice seals, millions of migratory birds from virtually all continents, bowhead and gray whales, belugas, walrus, and much other marine life. Communities in these regions should not have to risk their way of life - or their economic health - so Big Oil can pad its pockets and ship oil to foreign markets.

Diverts Federal Dollars: The "Big Oil Giveaway" also includes various "revenue sharing" schemes which are designed to create perverse incentives to drill - even in environmentally sensitive areas--by sending federal revenues to a handful of coastal states. These schemes encourage more damaging drilling and put coastal economies that already rely on tourism, recreation and fishing at great risk. In a time when budgets are being slashed and states around the nation are suffering, taking revenues that belong to all Americans and diverting them to a few states as simply a way to keep Big Oil in business amounts to little more than a bribe.

Conclusion: Instead of the "Big Oil Giveaway" that threatens our coasts and climate, Congress should deliver a responsible plan that preserves the Arctic as our last pristine ocean, focuses any Atlantic development on unlocking the vast potential of offshore wind while keeping drilling off the table, and instead of lifting the crude-oil-export ban invests in sustainable, clean energy and transportation policies that don't threaten the integrity of existing business or the health of our communities.

Call your Senators (202-224-3121) and tell them to choose people over polluter profits.

Franz Matzner

Franz A. Matzner is director of the Beyond Oil Initiative for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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