Surfrider Foundation joined several other environmental organizations in submitting the following letter to the House of Representatives regarding three disastrous bills authored by Representative Hastings.
On behalf of our millions of members, activists and supporters, we strongly oppose all three bills authored by Representative Hastings that will be coming to the floor of the House over the next two weeks: H.R.1229, the Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act, H.R.1230, the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, and H.R.1231, the Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act. None of these proposals will address the increasing price of gas, America’s dependence on oil, or the recent Gulf oil spill and its implication for drilling safety.
In light of the recent BP oil spill disaster, Congress should permanently protect our treasured beaches, sensitive coasts and valuable oceans from the kinds of environmental and economic devastation that the oil spill brought to the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, these proposed pieces of legislation would expand offshore drilling to places that have not been drilled before, like the Atlantic coast, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and much of the Pacific coast. They would accelerate leasing in the Arctic, an area where spill cleanup is almost impossible and scientific uncertainties about impacts on the sensitive environment abound. Finally, the bills would speed up the flawed permitting processes that ultimately led to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
These bills fail to address broad, systematic failures in the oil drilling industry and regulatory agencies that brought on the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. We have learned through extensive investigations, including those of the President’s bipartisan Oil Spill Commission, that the oil industry does not have a culture of safety, that the nation’s offshore regulatory agency prioritized production over safety and environmental stewardship, and that the Coast Guard was woefully unprepared for the spill even though it has the responsibility to lead government and private cleanup efforts.
By radically expanding the scope of drilling in the United States, H.R.1230 and H.R.1231 would subject sensitive marine ecosystems and vibrant coastal economies and communities dependent on clean beaches and clean oceans to the ever-present risk of oil spills. According to government data, coastal county tourism and fishing around the U.S. have a conservative economic value of $225 billion per year and directly employ more than 4.5 million people, not accounting for the ripple effects generated by indirect jobs and income. A respected tourism economics consulting firm, Oxford Economics, has projected $7-23 billion in tourism related damages alone in the Gulf over the next three years. At a time when our economy is in a fragile recovery period, it makes no sense to jeopardize that recovery and create more threats to our marine environments.
Our specific objections to these bills include the following:
o H.R.1229 would reduce the period of consideration for drilling permits to a short and arbitrary timeline, severely weakening the ability of the Department of the Interior to carefully analyze proposals. That bill would also limit access to federal courts for anyone, including fishermen, businessmen, or local governments, challenging government drilling plans and permits.
o Despite the Obama administration’s decision to cancel Virginia leasing because of real concerns about drilling safety, H.R.1230 would rush leasing off Virginia and the Gulf of Mexico, deeming pre-BP oil spill environmental reviews “sufficient.”
o H.R.1231 would force a radical expansion in lease sales and leased area across vast areas of the Outer Continental Shelf. Under this bill, the next OCS leasing plan, and all subsequent five-year leasing plans, would be required to offer at least 50 percent of each planning area for leasing. This targets drilling off the coast of southern California, the entire Atlantic coast, Bristol Bay, Alaska, and the Arctic Ocean.
o The radical expansion of acreage leased will have enormous negative environmental and economic consequences for our coasts. This can only serve to further enrich oil companies at the expense of ordinary citizens.
Most importantly, there are much better ways to address the problems of high gas prices and our nation’s dependence on oil. Better, faster, cheaper solutions to these problems require our nation to transition off of oil and move urgently to renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar power. We need to increase gas mileage for cars and trucks, improve building efficiency, and expand choices for mass transit. These are the policies that will get us off of oil and remove the stranglehold that oil companies have on our country. Rep. Hastings’ bills contribute to none of those goals and instead take us backward, increasing our dependence on oil and gas and further risking our oceans, coasts, and the livelihoods of millions of Americans.