For Immediate Release, September 11, 2019

Contact:

Blake Kopcho, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7153, bkopcho@biologicaldiversity.org
Raleigh Hoke, Healthy Gulf, (573) 795-1916, raleigh@healthygulf.org
Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, (504) 452-4909, anne@labucketbrigade.org
Patrick Davis, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0744, pdavis@foe.org
Dave Stets, Sierra Club — Delta Club Chapter, (804) 222-4420, davidmstets@gmail.com

Western, Central Gulf of Mexico Excluded From House Bills Banning Offshore Leasing

Offshore Drilling Disproportionately Harms Communities of Color

WASHINGTON— The U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills today to limit offshore leasing in federal waters. But both bills ignore the western and central Gulf of Mexico, where most federal offshore oil and gas production currently occurs, and Alaska. Both bills now move on to the U.S. Senate.

H.R. 205 by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) would permanently protect the eastern Gulf from offshore leasing and drilling, extending the moratorium Congress passed in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. H.R. 1941 by Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) would prohibit the federal government from offering offshore leases along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

“Any serious attempt to protect people and wildlife from offshore drilling has to halt new leases in the entire Gulf of Mexico and Alaskan waters,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. “It’s disappointing and wrong that these bills fall short of fully protecting the nation’s coastal communities. Gulf Coast residents, marine life and our climate will pay a heavy price if we continue to drill and spill there.”

A 2016 report found that technically recoverable oil and gas resources of the Gulf of Mexico that have yet to be leased contain up to 32.81 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2e) — as much greenhouse gas pollution as 9,500 coal-fired power plants operating for a year.

“The current active and new leases in the Gulf of Mexico are more than enough to get us through a complete transition to clean energy sources. The continued irresponsible exploitation of the non-renewable natural resources produced in the Gulf is shameful,” said Jackie Antalan, director of outreach and programs with Operation HomeCare, Inc. “Significant negative environmental, public health, cultural and socioeconomic injustices continue to go unaddressed, putting our black community at increased risk.”

Gulf drilling contributes to global warming, extreme storms and sea level rise that impact all U.S. coastlines and communities. The Trump administration has been trying to expand drilling in almost all federal waters, including in the Arctic, where conditions are hazardous and an oil spill would be impossible to clean up.

“We are upset Congress has chosen to push legislation that ignores the communities suffering the most from ongoing and expanding offshore drilling activity,” said Marcie Keever, director of the oceans & vessels program at Friends of the Earth. “Truly addressing the climate crisis demands real action to stop the drilling for fossil fuels. Any package that aims to protect our oceans must impose a moratorium on new leasing along all of our coastlines, including the entire Gulf of Mexico.”

More than 2,100 oil and chemical spills occur in the Gulf every year. Some states close to facilities that process Gulf oil rank among the worst in the nation for toxic pollution. An 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River in Louisiana between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, known as Cancer Alley, is home to more than 150 petrochemical plants and refineries. Some of these communities experience high rates of cancer, respiratory ailments and other public health problems.

“Why is there continued support for lease sales in the western and central Gulf of Mexico? Current leases in the region will support drilling for decades,” asks Cyn Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “It is time to stop selling leases at rock-bottom prices. It is time that we begin the transition to a clean energy future. We must ask ourselves, ‘Who does this benefit?’ ”

EPA scientists have concluded that, nationwide, non-white communities in proximity to refineries or factories are much more likely to be exposed to higher levels of fine particle air pollution than white communities.

“Burning fossil fuels has already brought the U.S. more hurricanes, intensified storms and flooding in places where we’ve never seen it before,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “If legislators care about thwarting climate change, it won’t help them to just stop drilling in the Arctic or along the East Coast. We must stop drilling everywhere.”

The largest fossil fuel lease offerings in U.S. history have been held in the Gulf since President Trump took office. Those lease offerings are being challenged in court.

“The Bahamas are currently experiencing what the climate crisis looks like, and this is just the beginning,” said Renate Heurich with 350 New Orleans. “To double down on oil and gas extraction is a crime against humanity and all future generations.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Earth fights to protect our environment and create a healthy and just world. We speak truth to power and expose those who endanger people and the planet. Our campaigns work to hold politicians and corporations accountable, transform our economic systems, protect our forests and oceans, and revolutionize our food & agriculture systems.

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