In their zeal to support the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration’s assault on America’s public lands, waters and public health, Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee have just floated a draft bill which, if enacted, would eliminate essential safeguards and expose every coastline to the substantial environmental and economic risks posed by offshore drilling. The draft bill reads like the oil industry’s wish list.
Here are just a few items in this grim proposal:
- Ends presidential authority under the Antiquities Act to establish any new Marine National Monuments (currently used to permanently protect areas of important scientific and historical significance for future generations).
- Gives the Secretary of Interior the authority at any time, to add additional offshore oil and gas lease sales without regard to the 5-Year Leasing Program. This change would undercut the value of the numerous steps and protections for states, local governments and the public that was involved in establishing the 5-Year Leasing Program.
- Removes presidential authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently protect offshore areas from drilling, and removes any protections that have been created to date by any past presidents (excluding drilling in sanctuaries and marine national monuments).
- Establishes revenue sharing schemes that create incentives for states and localities to support risky drilling in sensitive areas in the Atlantic and Arctic and closer to shore, while siphoning money from the federal treasury. Increases revenue sharing in the Gulf of Mexico, also pulling money from the federal budget. .
- Nullifies a rule designed to increase safety in Arctic offshore drilling and prevent spills.
The bill sponsors appear to be following the Trump administration’s lead in allowing polluters to freely exploit our public lands and waters, without regard to environmental risk, safety or public process. However, there seems to be little public appetite for such a reckless approach.
The Obama administration discovered, after an exhaustive analysis of the benefits and risks, as well as input from potentially impacted communities and businesses, the American people simply do not want to hand over their oceans to oil companies. In fact, the groundswell of opposition from communities and businesses along the coasts stopped previous proposals cold.
In addition to willfully ignoring their constituents’ voices, these representatives are attempting to gut as many environmental protections that apply offshore as possible. After this bill removes presidential authority to protect important areas from offshore drilling, removes presidential authority to protect any ecologically or historically critical marine area from commercial extraction, hands over complete authority to drill anywhere to Secretary Zinke, and nixes the few safety rules enacted after the BP disaster, what protections are really left?
Worse, as Congress moves through the budget process—a process they have used in a failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act—there is a real risk that they use this process in an attempt to implement provisions in this bill. With only a simple majority of votes needed to pass in both the House and Senate, this would be one way to force through a very unpopular drilling proposal and put our coastlines at risk.
If Republicans in Congress continue this effort they will find precisely the same thing that decisionmakers before them found—the public simply doesn’t want to risk its economies and way of life to make the oil industry rich. This bill is nothing more than the latest attempt to place oil industry profits above communities back home.