Congress’s New Energy Bill Is a Ridiculously Long List of Oil Industry Giveaways
by Tim Donaghy
November 16, 2017
The SECURE American Energy Act would make oil drilling a whole lot easier -- and it could be coming up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in a matter of weeks.
If you’ve ever been to a small child’s birthday party, you’ve probably experienced that moment when the piñata finally breaks open and a swarm of kids dives to the ground to get their share of the candy waterfall.
The election of Donald Trump was like that piñata moment, but for fossil fuel companies and lobbyists desperate to grab a piece of America’s public lands and waters while they still can. Trump’s dirty energy giveaway has been rolling along all year in a flurry of executive orders, attacks on national monuments, pipeline approvals, regulatory rollbacks, fired scientists, and ethics violations.
The latest shameless free-for-all is called the SECURE American Energy Act (*), and it could be coming up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in a matter of weeks. In the U.S. Senate, a provision opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling has been attached to “must-pass” budget legislation.
But Trump’s momentum has stalled, and if people across the country raise their voices together, we have a very good chance to stop this legislative pollution before it passes.
Oil Lobbyists Want A Pony
Here’s the deal. If enacted, the SECURE American Energy Act would make offshore oil drilling a whole lot easier. It would:
- Remove the long-standing ability of the President to issue drilling moratoria (as was done after the Deepwater Horizon disaster), to protect offshore areas from drilling, and to create Marine National Monuments
- Reopen the offshore areas that President Obama protected, including the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas north of Alaska, along with parts of the Atlantic
- Revoke an Obama-era rule requiring stronger safety measures when drilling in Arctic waters
- Remove the ability of the Interior Secretary to cancel a scheduled lease sale
- Divert a portion of oil revenues to the states where oil companies want to drill — including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alaska — in a bid to win over politicians in those states
OK, that’s a lot, but the SECURE Act would also remove protections for whales and dolphins in order to facilitate seismic blasting, the first phase of oil exploration. It would:
- Weaken protections for marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and enforce strict timelines for issuing harassment permits
- Carve out exemptions to certain parts of the Endangered Species Act
- Move marine mammal permitting from NOAA, which has the needed scientific expertise, to the Interior Department
Wait there’s more! The SECURE Act would also make it easier to drill for oil onshore. It would:
- Allow the Department of the Interior to delegate oil and gas permitting on federal land to state governments, allowing them to sidestep federal environmental laws
- Prohibit any federal regulation of hydraulic fracking on federal lands
If you’re thinking, “wow that’s a shameless and ridiculously long list of giveaways to the oil and gas industry”, you’d be right.
Defend the Sacred
And we haven’t even talked about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The oil industry and Alaska’s Congressional delegation have had their eyes on the Refuge for decades. Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill requiring two lease sales in the Refuge in the next decade, and the estimated $1 billion in revenues from those sales are being used to offset lost revenue in Trump’s tax reform package. Because Murkowski’s bill is part of the budget process, it can be passed with 50 votes and cannot be filibustered.
The Gwich’in nation has lived in this region of Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada for thousands of years, and has relied on the Porcupine Caribou Herd as a key source of sustenance and cultural identity. As one leader put it, “Caribou are how we survive and are integral to who we are and how we define ourselves.” For this reason, since the 1980s the Gwich’in have defended the Refuge against numerous attempts to open it up to oil drilling, and are now organizing once again to protect it.
No More Subsidies for Dirty Energy
The oil and gas industry already receives significant subsidies from the government. A recent study found that U.S. taxpayers hand out $20 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry… every single year. What’s more, without those subsidies, a significant fraction of oil and gas projects would not be economically viable.
Rather than investing in clean energy and creating more green jobs, we are using taxpayer dollars to prop up a dirty industry that is on its way out. This is dumb, short-sighted policy. Continued investment in dirty, fossil fuel energy hurts Americans and weakens our country, and the SECURE Act promises to make it much worse.
Communities along our coasts have already stated that they don’t want drilling happening off their shores. Add your voice to theirs and push for a clean energy economy that works for all of us.
(*) The SECURE Act combines elements of previous bills including the ASTRO Act, the ONSHORE Act, and the Streamlining Environmental Approvals Act, so if you have seen previous information on those bills, this bill represents the same threat.