Congress’s Chance to Protect Our Coasts

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Courtesy of NRDC.
By Valerie Cleland, Lauren Kubiak

Congress holds hearings this week on offshore drilling in both the House and the Senate. Offshore oil and gas leasing poses a threat to our coastal economies and the health of our ocean. Citizens, local communities, and elected officials from both parties recognize this danger and have been vocal in their opposition to new leasing off their coasts. The Biden Administration placed a one-year moratorium on new oil and gas lease sales because it recognizes that continuing to sell off our public lands and waters for fossil fuel development is incompatible with our goal of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers, gushed millions of barrels of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, threw tens of thousands of fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers, and others out of work, led to widespread health problems, and killed large numbers of birds, marine mammals, and other animals. Federal safety measures put in place in the wake of the disaster were rolled back in the previous administration and a disaster of this scale could easily happen again if we continue drilling offshore.

Image: this oil-stained sand in Naples, FL, comes from the Deep Water Horizon disaster that occurred 11 years ago. Photo courtesy of Frank Semmens, taken around 2 days before Earth Day 2021.

Here’s what we can expect:

In the House:

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing called Protecting Coastal Communities and Ocean Resources from Offshore Drilling in the subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, chaired by Rep. Lowenthal of California. The House has traditionally led on offshore drilling and continues to do so with discussion of the following six bills:

  • Rep. McEachin’s Offshore Accountability Act H.R. 570 requires offshore drilling operators to report failures of critical safety systems directly to the Secretary of the Interior among other things;
  • Rep. Brownley’s Offshore Pipeline Safety Act H.R. 2643 addresses the lack of proper oversight of active and decommissioned offshore oil and gas pipelines to ensure the decommissioned pipelines are cleaned up properly;
  • Rep. Castor’s Florida Coastal Protection Act H.R. 2836  would ban oil and gas leasing off the Florida coast and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico;
  • Rep Pallone’s COAST Anti-Drilling Act H.R. 3116 would ban oil and gas leasing and pre-leasing in the Atlantic;
  • Rep. Levin’s American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act H.R. 3053 would ban oil and gas leasing and pre-leasing off of Southern California; and
  • Rep. Huffman’s North Pacific Ocean Protection Act H.R. 3048 would ban oil and gas leasing and pre-leasing off of Central California, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

We expect to hear from scientists, Gulf of Mexico communities, local municipalities, along with surfing and other business stakeholders about the importance of protecting our coasts for health, climate, social, and economic reasons. This diverse panel has the opportunity to speak to the myriad of reasons so many communities are against new offshore drilling.

Now is the time to act on climate, listen to coastal communities, and protect our coasts. Congress is taking action with these bills, but we can’t stop here. We have to protect the Arctic from drilling and begin an offshore oil and gas production ramp down and just transition in the Gulf toward a cleaner energy future. We’re excited to work with Congress and the Biden Administration to act boldly and work toward eliminating all new leasing.

We strongly support this slate of legislation on offshore drilling as an important first step in protecting our coasts. We also want to acknowledge that these representatives’ very ability to work on legislation like this is an essential feature of our democracy. And yet certain cosponsors participated in an unprecedented attack on our democratic process. Until those members take responsibility for that anti-democratic vote, we believe their legislative work will always come with an asterisk.

In the Senate:

The Senate will take up offshore energy in its own hearing in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to examine offshore energy development, including testimony from Director Amanda Lefton of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the agency charged with administering the offshore leasing program. We anticipate learning more about her agency’s role in fixing our federal leasing program in accordance with the Biden Administration’s recent moves to address the climate crisis, ensure equitable access to our public resources, and protect local communities.

The House has typically played a larger role in the fight against offshore drilling in past years. We hope that this congress, the Senate recognizes its new opportunity to step up and meet the moment by addressing the issues ahead of us: the climate crisis and the risks offshore drilling pose to communities. With overwhelming bipartisan support for protecting our coasts from offshore drilling, now is the time to end new offshore leasing.

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