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

Kids play with a basketball in a street with an oil refinery billowing smoke not far away in the background.
AP Photo/LM Otero
FILE- The Carver Terrace hosing project is shown next to an oil refinery in west Port Arthur, Texas, Thursday, May 17, 2007. Port Arthur, located next to the Louisiana line, sits in a corridor routinely ranked as one of the country’s most polluted regions.

You’ve heard the news and seen the reports: the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis are coming unless we transition from fossil fuels to clean energy as soon as possible. But for some of us, the climate crisis is already here and impacting our health, safety and communities. I am a retired Exxon-Mobil employee from Port Arthur, Texas — a city that has become a sacrifice zone for the profits of the oil and gas industry, where the United States government has permitted pipelines, liquified natural gas and petrochemical facilities and offshore drilling. Here, we have seen firsthand what happens when the government listens to the fossil fuel industry instead of people. The costs on our families and communities are mounting. It’s time for the status quo to change and for politicians to keep their word to us, starting by putting an end to new offshore drilling leases. 

Last month, the Biden administration released their long-awaited five-year plan — a proposed schedule of oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. When running for office, Joe Biden made a promise that, if we elected him to the White House, he would end all new leasing on federal lands 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 do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry instead of protecting the people who are going to pay the price.

For those of us who’ve spent our entire lives in endangered Gulf communities, there is a world of difference between a five-year plan from the Biden administration that includes new offshore leases and one that doesn’t. The former means devastating oil spills, rising sea levels and constant flooding, and a continued threat to our respiratory health. The latter brings hope for a livable future and a start to the clean energy transition that President Biden promised on the campaign trail. Even for those who don’t live in the Gulf, the difference between these two paths forward is staggering. An end to new offshore drilling would prevent 19 billion tons of carbon pollution from entering our atmosphere — which is 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 they have yet to utilize, tap into, drill and explore. They claim that we need to sacrifice communities like my own in the name of energy prices and national security — all while these oil and gas executives rake in record breaking profits at the expense of American families. We should be asking ourselves — why would we offer more leases to an industry that already has thousands, especially when it has been proven that it won’t lower gas prices? It’s because this industry and their political allies will never get enough money or power. It’s abundantly clear that expanding fossil fuel infrastructure puts us on a direct path to climate catastrophe. I don’t know how many more summers with record-breaking heat, hurricanes and super storms we have to experience before our government understands that we cannot go on like this anymore. 

This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)  reached a deal on climate investments with the Inflation Reduction Act. In its current form, it would offer millions of acres off the Gulf for offshore drilling for decades to come, putting communities like mine in harm’s way. We no longer have the luxury of debating whether or not we should open up our oceans to more oil and gas drilling. If the Biden administration and our elected officials choose to dismiss the warning signs, ignore their own commitments and cave to the fossil fuel industry’s demands, they are all complicit in permitting a climate apocalypse. We can’t keep flying past these warning signs and flashing lights — we must understand that new drilling is a death sentence for the Gulf Coast and for our planet. If you think I am being alarmist, I invite you to come down to the Gulf Coast and see what the fossil fuel industry has done to our air, water and health — you can come see firsthand why we don’t want any new leases. 

We need a five-year plan with no new leases, we need bold climate investments to truly transition us 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 livable future — if the Biden administration bows down to the fossil fuel industry, we have to rise 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. 

Tags Climate change fenceline communities Fossil fuels Global warming Joe Biden oil and gas drilling oil leasing sacrifice zone

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