Protecting Atlantic and Arctic from Drilling Makes Political Sense

DrillingThe national conversation about offshore drilling has shifted in the past few weeks. Shell pulled out of the Arctic Ocean after months of public outcry and unforgiving conditions. Then the Obama administration called off Arctic leasing sales for the next two years and rejected Shell’s application to extend its existing leases in the region. Towns all along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey through Florida have passed resolutions opposing drilling off of their coasts.

All the while, presidential candidates tweeted and commented on the implications of offshore drilling.

Now President Obama is poised to make one of the most important decisions of his presidency about how to manage our publicly owned oceans and protect our children from climate change.

His administration will soon release the next five-year offshore leasing plan. The current draft reopens the door to drilling in the Arctic Ocean and exposes the Atlantic Ocean to drilling for the first time in 30 years.

This version would lock our nation into decades of increased climate change pollution and oil spill risk.  But if the president decides to seize the opportunity provided by Shell’s retreat and community groundswell on the Atlantic coast by putting these waters off-limits to drilling for good, he can solidify his legacy as leader in the climate fight and the effort to protect natural heritage.

If the president favors the sustainable future instead of the dirty past, he will have plenty of support. Poll after poll after poll show that the vast majority of Americans want leaders to tackle climate change. One survey found that 70 percent of Americans support strict limits on carbon pollution from power plants. And 56 percent of Republicans believe in climate change and 72 percent support accelerating clean energy development, according to a recent survey by leading GOP pollsters.

Democratic presidential candidates are starting to echo these views and connect their energy policies to the fight against climate change. In August, Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Drilling the Arctic at a time when we face serious climate emergency should be unthinkable.” And Former Secretary Hillary recently stated “we want to keep more fossil fuels under the ocean and under the ground.  That’s why I’m against Arctic drilling.”

Clinton has repeatedly emphasized the need to fight climate change by pivoting to renewable resources like wind and solar power. In July, she announced that if she were elected president, she would ensure the nation gets 33 percent of its energy from renewables by 2027. And at the Democratic debate, she framed the fight against climate change as an opportunity “to grow our economy.”

Republican candidates have taken a different approach.

During an early fall cold snap this month, Donald Trump declared “we could use a big fat dose of global warming.” Senator Marco Rubio just released an energy plan that calls for more offshore drilling and would nullify U.S. participation in an international climate agreement. Rubio represents Florida, where many local governments oppose plans to open offshore drilling in the region.

These positions are out of step with the majority of Americans, but they fit squarely with the fossil fuel industry, which has spent billions of dollars in the past few years to elect and influence lawmakers who will side with polluting companies. They want to open the Arctic and Atlantic for drilling because it will keep the cycle of fossil fuel investment and infrastructure going for years to come.

Oil drilled from these oceans wouldn’t arrive in the market for 10 or 20 years. The industry wants us to believe America can’t make the shift to cleaner solutions by then.  But the evidence is all around us that America is already on a safer, more sustainable path—from fuel efficiency standards that will slash oil use in new cars in half by 2025 to wind and solar projects supplying 57 percent of all new power generation capacity in the first part of 2015.

No elected leader should let the oil industry knock us of that path by opening new areas to drilling—drilling for oil we won’t need and can’t burn if we want to defuse the climate threat. The majority of Americans want to move into a cleaner future, and President Obama can help us get there. He can protect the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from drilling for good.

Franz Matzner is a Senior Advisor to the NRDC Action Fund.

Newt’s 30-Minute Energy Infomercial: 29 minutes Too Long

On Sunday, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich released a video of himself talking about energy policy. Clocking in at 28 minutes and 59 seconds, I can tell you that the video lasts about 28 minutes and 56 seconds too long. That’s because the entire message can be summed up in just three words:

“Drill, baby, drill.”

I suppose Newt’s not known for being concise. Instead, Newt spent nearly 30 minutes detailing why America needs ever more oil, ever more gas, and ever more drilling. But, Newt willfully ignores the most important piece of the energy puzzle: climate change.

As one of my friends put it, “Newt sounds like a drunken sailor who cannot pass up one more slug after last call. Drilling-here and drilling-there will only perpetuate our oil addiction and delay our transition to a green and prosperous economy fueled by renewable sources of energy. And no café standards? What does he drive -– a model T? America has seen his backward vision for America and we rejected it two decades ago.”

Newt wraps up his pro-drilling lecture by saying, “And I think with that energy future, we’re going to have a better quality of life, a better economy, better national security, and take a big step toward balancing the federal budget.”

I share those goals. But, climate change threatens those objectives. Quality of life will be threatened by risk of illness and death from extreme heat. By 2100, just a handful of global warming impacts could cost the U.S. economy $1.9 trillion annually. The Pentagon knows that climate change is a threat multiplier that will harm our national security and contribute to instability across the globe.

We can aim to have it all, but not without addressing climate change.

Newt and I do agree on another thing. Throughout his feature film, Newt alludes to American innovation, science and technology as the tools to get to a dramatically different energy future. He’s right. But we need to apply that innovation and entrepreneurship to developing and scaling new clean energy technologies, not just to digging deeper for dead dinosaurs.

So, save yourself 30 minutes. Don’t watch the video. Instead, spend those 30 minutes soaking up the beautiful and unusually warm winter weather we’re experiencing. And contemplate the less fun consequences of the unchecked warming that “drill, baby, drill” will bring.

Declare freedom from high gas prices

“The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity and our long-term security on a resource that will eventually run out.” — President Obama

President Obama heads to Miami today where he will give a speech about rising gas prices. Some analysts say prices at the pump could top $4 per gallon this summer. What’s driving up the cost of gasoline is rising demand as the U.S. economy continues to improve, the growing thirst for fuel in other countries, and political instability in the Middle East.

Obviously, the president’s political opponents are clamoring to blame Obama for the pain at the pump — despite the fact his administration has dramatically increased domestic oil and gas drilling while doing more than other president to reduce our reliance on oil by raising automobile fuel-efficiency standards. But as usual, politics trumps policy — especially in an election year. And it’s a safe bet the GOP won’t let the facts about gas prices get in the way.

Coinciding wth the president’s trip to South Florida, the Miami Herald published a commentary by NRDC’s Executive Director Peter Lehner. The gist of Peter’s piece is that the solution to our nation’s energy crisis is not to “drill, baby, drill” but to give Americans more energy freedom. He writes:

“Contrary to what we’re hearing from some politicians and Big Oil lobbyists, more drilling doesn’t mean lower gas prices. The number of oil rigs in the United States has quadrupled in the past three years. The United States is already producing more oil than it has in nearly a decade.

Yet what has that done for gas prices? They’ve only increased of course — not because we need to even drill more, but because demand is increasing with the improving economy; because countries like China and India are expanding and because Iran is threatening to cut off its oil supply to the rest of the world.

Even if we were to drill every drop of oil known to exist in the United States, we wouldn’t have enough to meet our demand. The cold hard fact is that America consumes about 25 percent of the world’s oil, but has less than 3 percent of the world’s proven reserves. And besides, who wants to see oil wells off of South Beach or face the economic devastation that would follow a Deepwater Horizon-like spill off the coast of Fort Lauderdale?

Forget about getting more oil from our friendly neighbor to the north too. There’s a reason why Canadian companies want to run their Keystone XL pipeline all the way to the Gulf of Mexico: It’s so they can reach worldwide oil markets — not so they can deliver more oil to us here in the United States.

The simple truth is, we can’t drill our way out of our addiction to oil.”

Peter is spot on. We don’t have nearly enough oil supply on our own land or off our shores to be energy self-sufficent. Finding ways to use less oil is the only sure-fire way to shield ourselves from price shocks at the pump. With that in mind, here are 10 ways to reduce U.S. oil dependence (courtesy of the folks at the Clean Fleet Report) summarized as follows:

  1. fuel efficiency
  2. electric cars
  3. eliminate fossil fuel subsidies
  4. urban density
  5. public transit
  6. employer commute and flexwork programs
  7. cash for clunkers
  8. smart apps
  9. smart growth
  10. states’ rights

The blog’s main point is that, together, those strategies all add up to this:

“Making us more dependent on oil will not make us less dependent. We must end the subsidies and mandates that make us 96 percent dependent on oil and allow our individuals, cities, and states to keep moving us forward with better transit, fuel-efficient cars, and a brighter future.”

So, as the rhetoric over rising gas prices heats up please try to remember that the problem is our nation’s oil addiction and for that there is no simple solution. Attacking this issue purely from the supply side will get us nowhere; reducing our demand is the only realistic answer. That means investing in more transportation choices so Americans have the freedom to find other ways than driving to get us where we need to go.

Washington Examiner gets it wrong

Billionaire Phil Anschutz bought his father’s drilling company in 1961 and has made oil exploration and production the building blocks of his $7 billion fortune.   As the 34th richest man in country, he has invested heavily in organizations and campaigns that promote positions that favor his oil and gas companies.   It therefore might come as no surprise that one of his papers, the Washington Examiner, published an editorial entitled “Gas Prices will stay High until U.S. Stops Dreaming and Starts Drilling”, even though the ideas of pro-drilling proponents have been repeatedly de-bunked:

“The oil market is globalized with prices ‘discovered’ through a complex set of interactions between futures traders, benchmark prices for types of crude oil, geopolitical considerations, currency exchange considerations and other factors. We could only increase drilling modestly, with a substantial time lag, and other factors are unlikely to stay the same so it wouldn’t dent a global price anyway. As I’ve written about before, we’re already drilling like crazy, more that all other nations combined, and yet we consume more than twice what we produce. And we have real-world examples (Canada and the UK ) that show that changing that ratio so we produce more won’t unshackle us from a volatile, giant oil marketplace.“

It’s always disappointing when an editorial board gets it so wrong on an issue, regardless of their motivation.   I urge the Washington Examiner editors to examine the facts and re-assess their position.