What the Big Oil Hearings Tell Us About Banning Fossil Fuel Exports

by Seth Laxman

February 16, 2022

The House Oversight Committee’s hearings remind us that Big Oil and their allies in Congress refuse to stop spending money to oppose efforts to reduce emissions and address climate change.

At Tuesday’s House Oversight Committee Hearing, Fueling the Climate Crisis: Examining Big Oil’s Climate Pledges, fossil-fueled Republicans could not stop bringing up how the importing and exporting of fossil fuels doesn’t make any sense for our environment, and that these practices would not contribute to emissions reductions. Somehow, they used the wrong formula but got the right answer!

The House Oversight Committee’s hearings remind us that Big Oil and their allies in Congress refuse to stop spending money to oppose efforts to reduce emissions and address climate change. Instead, they only show regard for maximizing profits for as long as possible regardless of the environmental and health impacts. The United States is the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gasses, meaning we are responsible for a large share of the warming that has happened to date. The U.S. is also the world’s largest oil and gas producer, and we export these fossil fuels to other countries. We must lead by example if the world stands any chance at meeting the benchmarks of limiting warming to 1.5⁰ Celsius to avoid climate catastrophe and advancing environmental justice. The United States must not only phase out producing and burning fossil fuels at home but also stop exporting them to be burned elsewhere.

One of the most important executive actions President Biden can take right now is declaring a climate emergency and reinstating the crude oil export ban. As a candidate, President Biden emphatically agreed that he was ready to ban fossil fuel exports as part of a rapid and responsible phaseout of fossil fuel production in the U.S.

Banning fossil fuel exports by reinstating the crude oil export ban that was in place from 1973 to 2015 would be a major step in reining in out-of-control drilling in the United States. The ban could lead to reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions of as much as 80 to 181 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, which is comparable to closing between 19 and 42 coal-fired power plants.

Access to international markets has made possible some U.S. oil production that would not have been produced with a ban on exports — and has also led to big investments in new oil pipelines and export terminal projects. The CEO of one of the nation’s largest crude exporters made the connection very succinctly: “Without the crude oil export ban repeal, the United States would not be producing half of the oil it is today because it could not be exported.” Reinstating the oil export ban could reverse this process, taking some domestic oil drilling projects off the table and potentially redirecting investment dollars from oil to renewable energy.

Export restrictions were the norm for decades. Restoring the crude export ban would simply correct an error that has deepened the climate crisis and made the needed transformation of the U.S. energy system significantly more difficult. The surge of oil and gas production in recent years has placed the planet and local communities at great risk, and President Biden must act swiftly to rein in this expansion and align U.S. energy policy with climate limits.

The heart of the U.S. oil and gas boom is in the Permian Basin. Situated over approximately 6,000 square miles in west Texas and Southeast New Mexico, the Permian is one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet. Effectively every new barrel of oil that is produced is exported because U.S. refiners cannot process more Permian crude, causing substantial, unnecessary harm to communities and the climate. If the dozens of proposed fossil fuel export projects under federal jurisdiction are built, Gulf Coast communities will suffer acute, significant impacts of added pollution, and then take a double hit when climate disasters strike. The urgency of this phaseout is imperative for Gulf Coast communities that were hit by 2020’s record-breaking hurricane season and 2021’s infrastructure-crippling deep freeze, which led to the deaths of over 240 people.

The bottom line is we cannot allow the expansion of fossil fuels and limit global warming at the same time. We must implement strong policies to phase out fossil fuel production while ensuring that the livelihoods of industry workers and communities are protected and improved in the transition to a renewable energy economy. The only way to avoid climate catastrophe is to phase out fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. The time is now for President Biden to follow through on the promises he has made to the American people, and the world, by demonstrating the true climate leadership that science and justice demand.

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Seth Laxman

By Seth Laxman

Seth Antonio Laxman (he/him) is a climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA. He is an environmental and transgender rights activist from Nyack, New York. An expert in sustainability and environmental justice, he is passionate about making the world a better and more beautiful place through action and art.

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