Now that the U.S. House has voted to lift the longstanding ban on crude oil exports, it’s up to President Obama and the Senate to stop this dangerous proposal — a big boost for the oil companies at the expense of the climate and our health.
The need for urgent action to curb global warming pollution is clear. Following the hottest year ever recorded, 2015 is on pace to set a new record. As we enter fall, extreme weather is wreaking havoc across the country — from intense rainfall and flooding in the Southeast to devastating drought in the West. In Maine, more extreme weather, high asthma rates and an increase in tick-borne diseases have already taken their toll. Scientists predict more record summer heat and poor air quality days across the state if climate change goes unchecked.
These are all catastrophes scientists say will become more frequent and severe as the planet warms.
Perhaps even more alarming, just last month, a new study found that burning the earth’s remaining fossil fuels would melt all of Antarctica — causing sea levels to surge more than 160 feet and plunging major cities like Portland here in Maine, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., underwater, not to mention almost the entire state of Florida.
To avert climate catastrophe, we must end our dependence on fossil fuels and chart a course to 100 percent pollution-free, renewable energy. That means supporting President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which places the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It means renewing tax incentives for wind, solar and other forms of clean energy. And it means supporting the U.S. as it leads other major countries toward an international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
It does not mean lifting the ban on exporting U.S. crude oil overseas.
If the oil companies have a larger distribution market for oil produced in the U.S., they will drill more. Estimates vary, but some from the Government Accountability Office are as high as 3.3 million more barrels per day for the next 20 years. Even if only a fraction of all this extra oil is burned, global warming pollution could still increase 22 million metric tons per year, the same amount of pollution produced by five average-sized coal power plants.
Transporting this oil is another matter. If it were conveyed by rail, every year, the extra oil would require enough trains to span the country from Los Angeles to Boston seven times. And pipelines carry their own risks. Either way, shipping more oil across the country would cause even more pollution and put more American communities at risk from devastating spills.
Lifting the ban would worsen global warming, but strengthen profits for the oil companies, who are already among the most profitable in the world. An Energy Information Administration study shows their revenue could jump more than $23 billion by 2025 without the ban in place. That’s a big reason these corporations are spending millions on lobbying and third-party studies supporting repeal of the ban.
In the short term, lifting the ban will line the pockets of Exxon and other major oil companies and threaten our health. In the long term, it will make it even harder to solve the climate crisis. We need enough senators, including Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King here in Maine, and the president to continue to stand against lifting the oil export ban, and to vote not for the immediate gains of a few, but for the safety and security of our climate for all.
Laura Dorle is a campaign organizer with Environment Maine.