President Obama’s speech about climate change at Georgetown University on Tuesday laid out a comprehensive plan to deal with what ClimateProgress editor Joe Romm called “the moral urgency of cutting carbon pollution.” Not surprisingly, the President’s words have fallen on deaf ears on the Republican side of the aisle in the House of Representatives.
Today, less than a month after it was introduced, the House passed H.R. 2231, the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, by a vote of 235 to 186. The bill reads like Big Oil’s Christmas list. It would open virtually all of the U.S. Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast off Southern California, and much of Alaska’s offshore space to new drilling; require the Obama administration to create a new Five-Year Plan for offshore operations; and generally perpetuate an energy agenda driven by climate deniers.
And if the bill is a Christmas list, its lead sponsor Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), is playing the role of Santa Claus. Hastings rushed the bill through the Natural Resources Committee he chairs, holding a hearing (at which I testified) just two days after introducing the bill — without giving sufficient advance notice for the Department of the Interior to even send a witness to represent the administration’s position.
The Committee website describes the legislation as “a contrast to President Obama’s no-new-drilling, no-new-jobs plan.” But the truth in this statement ends with the word “contrast.” In fact, earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal described the offshore oil and gas industry under President Obama as “booming.”
Furthermore, the Big Oil fueled coalition supporting more offshore drilling does so while completely ignoring the fact that there are other, far more effective ways to create jobs in coastal communities. According to the National Ocean Economics Program, in 2011 the ocean economy accounted for 2.7 million jobs and contributed more than $250 billion to our GDP.
Nearly 2 million of those jobs occur in fisheries, tourism, and recreation — all industries that would be put at tremendous risk by expanded offshore drilling activity.
Meanwhile, offshore minerals production supported 143,000 workers. In other words, jobs that depend on healthy, unpolluted, undeveloped ocean space outnumber oil and gas jobs 15 to 1.
Yet House Republicans continue to insist that the only way ahead for America’s energy policy is more drilling even though they have yet to pass a single piece of legislation that would make drilling safer in the aftermath of the worst offshore oil spill in the country’s history.
In March of 2011, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill released its final recommendations to improve management of offshore drilling. The Commissioners found that Congress had:
…developed a false sense of security about the risks of offshore oil and gas development. Congress showed its support for offshore drilling in a number of ways, but did not take any steps to mitigate the increased perils that accompany drilling in ever-deeper water.
Perhaps the most glaring example of Congressional inaction is that the liability cap for offshore oil spills remains at a pathetically low $75 million, while damages from Deepwater Horizon are expected to exceed $14 billion.
The Big Five oil companies made over $118 billion in profits in 2012 alone, which means together they could pay for the maximum legal liability for four offshore oil spills every day for a year, and still have profits left over. BP waived its liability cap, but there’s no guarantee the next company will be solvent enough to pay more than the law requires.
The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act is not part of a true “all of the above” energy strategy. It’s an “anything goes” energy strategy that ignores our past failures and creates a game that means — for Big Oil — to play is to win. The losers in this game are sustainable ocean and coastal industries, our marine environment, and some of our most beloved places for rest and recuperation. American prosperity will come from diversifying our economic growth, not supporting one industry at the expense of all others and tilting the playing field dramatically in favor of oil and gas companies that already dominate our economic landscape.
As President Obama put it in his remarks on Tuesday:
Our founders believed that those of us in positions of power are elected not just to serve as custodians of the present, but as caretakers of the future. And they charged us to make decisions with an eye on a longer horizon than the arc of our own political careers. That’s what the American people expect. That’s what they deserve. And someday our children and our children’s children will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could, when we had the chance, to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did.
Apparently, the 235 members of the House of Representatives who voted to give Big Oil and extremely early Christmas gift plan to give their children and grandchildren a very different answer.
Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.