President Biden’s offshore drilling plan will make or break promises of climate and environmental justice

You’ve heard the news and seen the reports: the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis are coming unless we switch from fossil fuels to clean energy as soon as possible. But for some of us, the climate crisis is already here and it impacts our health, safety and community. I am a retired Exxon-Mobil employee in Port Arthur, Texas, a city that has become a sacrifice zone for oil and gas industry profits, where the U.S. government has licensed pipelines, liquefied natural gas and facilities. petrochemicals and offshore drilling. Here, we have seen firsthand what happens when the government listens to the fossil fuel industry instead of the people. The costs to our families and communities are rising. It is time for the status quo to change and for politicians to keep their word, starting by ending the new offshore drilling leases.

Last month, the Biden administration released its long-awaited five-year plan, a proposed program for oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. When he ran for office, Joe Biden promised that if we elected him to the White House, he would end all new leases on federal land and waters, but this proposed plan tells a different story. By opening the door to new leases in the five-year plan, the Biden administration has decided to execute the fossil fuel industry’s orders instead of protecting the people who will pay the price.

For those of us who have spent our entire lives in endangered Gulf communities, there’s a huge difference between a Biden administration’s five-year plan that includes new offshore leases and one that doesn’t. The former means devastating oil spills, sea level rise and continuous flooding, and a continuing threat to our respiratory health. The latter brings hope for a liveable future and a start for the clean energy transition that President Biden promised during the election campaign. Even for those who don’t live in the Gulf, the difference between these two routes is astounding. An end to new offshore drilling would prevent 19 billion tons of carbon pollution from entering our atmosphere, the equivalent of taking every car in the United States off the road for 15 years.

The fossil fuel industry already has over 9,000 leases that have yet to use, tap, drill and explore. They claim we must sacrifice communities like mine in the name of energy prices and national security, all while these oil and gas executives rake in record profits at the expense of American families. We should ask ourselves: why should we offer more leases to a sector that already has thousands, especially when it has been shown that it will not lower gas prices? It is because this industry and its political allies will never have enough money or power. It is quite clear that the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure puts us on the direct path of climate catastrophe. I don’t know how many more summers of record heat, hurricanes and super storms we’ll have to experience before our government realizes we can’t go on like this anymore.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) and Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) reached a climate investment agreement under the Inflation Reduction Act. In its current form, it would offer millions of dollars. acres off the Gulf for offshore drilling for decades to come, endangering communities like mine. We no longer have the luxury of discussing whether or not to open our oceans to more oil and gas drilling. If the Biden administration and our elected officials choose to ignore the warning signs, ignore their commitments, and give in to the demands of the fossil fuel industry, they are all complicit in enabling a climate apocalypse. We cannot continue to fly past these warning signs and flashing lights: we must understand that the new drilling is a death sentence for the Gulf coast and for our planet. If you think I’m alarmist, I invite you to come to the Gulf Coast and see what the fossil fuel industry has done to our air, water and health – you can come and see for yourself why we don’t want new leases.

We need a five-year plan with no new leases, we need bold climate investments to truly move away from fossil fuels, and we need to hold our elected officials accountable for turning their backs on our communities. There is no room for more fossil fuels if we want a liveable future: if the Biden administration gives in to the fossil fuel industry, we must stand up and push back.

John Beard Jr. is the founder, president and executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, serving the Port Arthur / Southeast Texas area as a community advocate.

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