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 occurring if we don’t switch 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 wasteland for oil and gas industry profits, where the United States government has allowed pipelines, natural gas liquefied and petrochemical facilities and offshore drilling. Here we saw 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’s time for the status quo to change and for politicians to keep their word, starting with ending new offshore drilling leases.

Last month, the Biden administration released its long-awaited five-year plan — a proposed timeline for oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. During his candidacy, Joe Biden promised that, if we elect him to the White House, he would end all new leases 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 auction off the fossil fuel industry instead of protecting the people who will pay the price.

For those of us who have spent our entire lives in threatened Gulf communities, there is a world of difference between a Biden administration five-year plan that includes new offshore leases and one that does not. The former means devastating oil spills, constant sea level rise and flooding, and a continued threat to our respiratory health. The latter brings hope for a livable future and the start of 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 paths is staggering. Ending 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 they still need to use, mine, drill and explore. They claim we must sacrifice communities like mine in the name of energy prices and national security – while these oil and gas executives rake in record profits at the expense of American families. We should ask ourselves — why would we offer more leases to an industry that already has thousands, especially when it has been proven that it will not lower gas prices? It’s because this industry and its political allies will never have enough money or power. It is abundantly clear that the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure puts us directly on the path to climate catastrophe. I don’t know how many more summers with record heat, hurricanes and super storms we will have to live before our government realizes that we can’t go on like this.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) struck a climate investment deal with the Cut Inflation 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 at risk. We no longer have the luxury of debating whether or not to open 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 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 further drilling is a death sentence for the Gulf Coast and for our planet. If you think I’m being an alarmist, I invite you to come to the Gulf Coast and see what the fossil fuel industry has done to our air, our water and our health – you can come see for yourself- even 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 livable future – if the Biden administration bows 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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