The Obama administration just released its draft proposal for a five-year offshore oil and gas drilling plan. It would open, for the first time since 1983, the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Georgia to offshore oil and gas drilling. It would also allow drilling in the vast majority of the wild Arctic. That’s the wrong direction for our country.
The U.S. Department of Interior’s plan would risk exposing communities and economies from Miami Beach to the Chesapeake Bay, from the Jersey Shore to Hilton Head, to another disaster like we saw in the Gulf of Mexico, with potentially devastating effects on the environment, beachfront tourism, jobs and the East Coast’s $80-billion ocean economy.
The Gulf has still not recovered from the Deepwater Horizon blowout that dumped more than 130 million gallons of toxic crude oil into some of the richest, most productive waters on Earth.
In the Arctic, the government’s own analysis shows that if leasing goes forward, a major spill is likely, exposing the fragile Arctic coastline to the kind of devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez disaster, from which southern Alaska has still not recovered, more than 25 years later.
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A better plan would chart this course:
▪ All Atlantic and Arctic waters need to be taken off the table. Opening more of our valuable coasts to the threat of oil spills is a senseless risk. Drilling in the Atlantic risks polluting beaches up and down the East Coast. Arctic drilling could easily destroy the world’s last pristine ocean.
▪ Offshore-drilling policy needs to reflect our obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change. Opening carbon reserves that are now underground will lock in decades of carbon pollution, hastening climate damages.
▪ Drilling safeguards need to be strengthened to reduce risks in areas already affected by drilling. Congress has not enacted a single one of the common-sense safety reforms called for after the 2010 BP disaster.
▪ Recognition should be given to the growing benefits of clean energy and efficiency. Federal mileage standards for cars and light trucks will save 12 billion barrels of oil over the life of the vehicles, while new and existing clean fuels and energy-efficiency policies can save nearly 4 billion barrels of oil each year by 2035. That’s almost as much oil, in a single year, as the Interior Department says will ever come from drilling all our offshore waters from Florida to Maine.
The Department of the Interior is accepting public comments until March 30. Everyone who cares about the health of our oceans, coastal communities and all they support should insist that the Atlantic and Arctic waters be closed to oil and gas development.
Peter Lehner, executive director, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York