On July 30th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the Offshore Production and Energizing National Security (OPENS) Act by a vote of 12 to 10. For those unfamiliar with this nasty bit of legislation, the OPENS Act, introduced by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), can be loosely summarized as a combination of three previously introduced offshore drilling and revenue-sharing bills (S. 1276, 1278 and 1279), that also includes a provision to lift the U.S. ban on exporting crude oil.
So what does this mean for the oceans? Nothing good, unfortunately. Jackie Savitz, Oceana’s Vice President of U.S. Oceans, called it “a massive give-away to Big Oil and a slap in the face to coastal communities that have vocally opposed offshore drilling.” Under current energy policy, the President’s Administration decides which federal lands, onshore or offshore, will be opened to oil and gas development. But the OPENS Act would override the Administration’s decision-making process and force lease sales in the Arctic, Atlantic, and a protected region of the Gulf of Mexico. The regions in which Congress hopes to force open to oil and gas companies are places where there is substantial opposition to this kind of development. Government officials are elected on the condition that they represent and serve the people, so if over 70 communities—representing more than a million Americans—have gone on record saying they don’t want drilling off their coasts, doesn’t the government have a responsibility to listen to them?
The bill’s elimination of the export ban on crude oil is also troubling. A 2014 poll conducted by the Center for American Progress found that over 80 percent of Americans, representing a wide range of the political spectrum, do not support exporting American crude oil abroad. Reasons for this opposition vary. Some are afraid that lifting the export ban will cause prices to rise at the pump. Others worry repealing the ban will increase oil production at home, leading to more dirty factories and refineries in the places where Americans live, work, and play. Still more are concerned about national energy independence, and feel strongly that energy produced at home should be used to meet domestic needs before being shipped overseas. There are plenty of good reasons to oppose lifting the crude oil export ban, and all of them are summarily dismissed under the OPENS Act.
There are many other negative components in this bill: the gutting of major environmental laws like the National Environmental Protection Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Clean Air Act, and more. This legislation is bad news our environment, our economy, and our valued way of life. Please help us fight the OPENS Act and protect our coasts. Consider writing letters to your senators asking them to oppose this bill.
Jackie Savitz took a hard line on the OPENS Act: “Oceana will stand with coastal communities that are working to protect their ocean economies, and we will fight to oppose this bill every step of the way.” She said.
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