Recently, in a keynote address at the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association’s fall meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was heard telling his audience that “government should work for you.”
Zinke’s remarks were widely derided as a Freudian admission that the White House’s allegiance lies first and foremost with big oil. However, what makes this episode genuinely troubling is that Zinke’s words are backed up by a long list of actions that show the federal government putting the whims of the oil and gas industry over the will of the people.
In January, Zinke proposed to open for exploration the largest expanse of the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas reserves ever offered to oil companies, including waters off the coast of California. A few months later, his department also proposed rolling back important safety measures designed to prevent incidents like the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, in which operators lose control of the well they are drilling in the ocean floor.
While many states, including California, have fought back, their efforts haven’t always been aided by their congressional representatives. In my home congressional district, California’s 48th, 30-year incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has gone against the will of his constituents time and time again to consistently support expanding offshore oil drilling measures. Being a Californian, Rohrabacher is arguably the most mind-boggling proponent of offshore drilling, but he is by no means alone – he is joined by a cadre of California Republicans who also acquiesce to the whims of the White House and big oil on the issue of offshore drilling.
The risk that offshore drilling – and burning fossil fuels more broadly – poses to our planet by exacerbating climate change are monumental. The twenty warmest years on record have all come since 1995, and climate change has been linked to rising sea levels, ocean acidification, more extreme weather patterns, more intense storms, and has been cited by the Department of Defense as one our greatest national security threats. At a time when scientists are saying a majority of all fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to keep global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius, expanding offshore oil drilling takes us in the opposite direction that we need to go.
Offshore drilling isn’t just bad for the environment – it’s bad economic policy, too. California’s beautiful coastline is one of the state’s biggest economic assets –a 2015 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the coastal tourism and recreation industries supply California with $17.6 billion per year and creates over 360,000 jobs. The same study found that these industries alone provided more than $1 billion in GDP for San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties. While environmental arguments often fall on deaf ears when talking to Republicans in Congress, protecting our coastline from an economically damaging oil spill should be a bipartisan effort. Just last month, Republican California Governor Pete Wilson was quoted as saying “The California coastline is a national treasure. Our coastline also contains valuable resources available for economic activity and the enjoyment by citizens in our state and by visitors from around the nation and the world. We need not risk new drilling in areas offshore that pose a significant and needless threat.”
Luckily, California’s state leaders recognize the threat posed by offshore drilling and have acted accordingly with the wishes of their constituents by taking bold, aggressive action in response. For example, Governor Brown recently signed two bills –AB 1775 (Muratsuchi) and SB 834 (Jackson) – that would prevent new offshore oil drilling in California by blocking the construction of any infrastructure necessary to transport oil and gas from federal waters to state lands.
California’s congressional leaders must follow suit, and provide a crucial check on the Trump administration with respect to offshore drilling. To say no to offshore drilling once and for all, we need Congress to pass Rep. Jared Huffman’s (D-CA) ‘Keep it in the Ground Act’, which would prohibit new leases for coal, oil, and gas on all federal lands and waters, stopping new leases for offshore drilling in the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, and permanently protecting the Arctic and Atlantic coasts.
Furthermore, it is imperative that Congress stop pursuing policies that increase our reliance on fossil fuels, and starts pursuing policies that help bolster and boost the renewable energy sector. Giving up fossil fuels and protecting our environment don’t have to be mutually exclusive with economic growth – the green economy has the potential to create millions of good-paying jobs. Congress needs to step up and support smart energy policies that will grow the green economy and create even more jobs. For example, it is essential to keep spending levels high, or even increasing funds, for programs offered through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Energy Information Agency, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
Tackling climate change is a daunting task, but protecting our coastlines from offshore drilling is a no-brainer. Not only will it be good policy for the economy and the environment, it also will serve to reassure the American people that the federal government works for them and their families – not special interests, contrary to what Secretary Zinke might think.
ON OC Podcast:
Harley Rouda is a successful businessman, philanthropist, attorney and tech entrepreneur who is running for Congress in California’s 48th congressional district. @HarleyRouda
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