Opening Our Oceans to Oil: Subsidizing the Past

Yesterday, I joined colleagues and concerned citizens from around the country at a gathering to tell the Obama Administration that it’s time to get the federal government out of the business of sanctioning offshore drilling that puts our oceans, communities, and climate at grave risk.

The gathering took place at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., one of a series the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is hosting across the country to gather input on how our nation’s publicly-owned coastal resources will be managed for the next five years.

And the results were the same as at every other event: a diverse chorus of voices called on President Obama to use his authority to permanently withdraw our unspoiled Arctic and Atlantic oceans from all future drilling, and to take immediate steps to transition Gulf of Mexico communities off of dirty fossil fuels and onto clean energy.

Already, the administration has taken one significant step in the right direction by excluding the Atlantic Ocean from its proposed 5-year plan. Now it’s time to finish the job.

There is far more at stake than one five year plan. The real question is: what future do we envision for our children and grandchildren? Will we hedge our bets on clean energy, and place our last pristine oceans on the oil industry chopping block? Or will we invest in a future powered by the wind and the sun?

The decision provides an opportunity for President Obama to once again demonstrate his faith that we will do what it takes to combat climate change.

Here’s why.

The massive new infrastructure and long lead times required to begin actual drilling in these seas means oil would not come to market for decades — if ever — and past the point when the world will have to have transitioned to clean forms of energy if we have a hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

Simply put, the only reason to keep the door open to future drilling in these oceans — oceans where no drilling has yet begun and that support vibrant local economies and unique ecological values — is if we don’t believe in a climate-safe future. To justify opening these areas, we must instead believe the world will not meet the goals set in Paris to deliver this and the next generation a habitable planet. That we will make so little progress in the next thirty years that there is no room in our “carbon budget” to keep even these precious places from being degraded.

That is why the public outcry for President Obama to seize this moment is so urgent. With only a few months remaining for the public to weigh in on the proposed 5-Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017–2022, concerned citizens are utilizing every opportunity to display the strength of our conviction. Conviction shared by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and frontline leaders who have come together to speak up in one unified voice.

Last week Secretary Kerry was at the United Nations to sign the historic Paris Climate Agreement. Last month President Obama and Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau jointly promised a better future for the northern ecosystems our countries steward.

Taking the Arctic and Atlantic off the table permanently is a perfect place to start taking delivery on these promises. After all, it doesn’t help the climate fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground for just five years.

Withdrawing the Arctic and Atlantic is a feasible opportunity that would preserve these unique waters, set important precedent in phasing-out all federal fossil fuel development, and further cement President Obama’s legacy as a climate leader.

Tens of thousands have already weighed in urging the President to act now. You can add your voice, here.