It's a dirty deal that could never have happened out in the open. Buried in the end-of-year budget bill just passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama is a provision that repeals the 40-year-old ban on the export of crude oil.
That move came despite intense public opposition and concerns about the devastating effect on our climate. Seventy percent of Americans oppose repeal of the export ban. It is a crucial bulwark against climate change, and it also helps prevent huge spikes in gasoline prices.
Yet politicians beholden to oil companies gained this stunning giveaway to the world's richest corporations through last-minute, behind-closed doors political horse-trading.
My organization and other conservationists and public health advocates also fought hard against lifting the ban because it could unleash a new fracking frenzy that will devastate our communities and wildlife.
And it could do horrific damage to our climate. It's dangerously irresponsible to greenlight measures that increase fossil fuel production.
But the fight isn't over. President Obama still has the power and the responsibility to do what's right.
With the ban lifted, oil companies will be pushing to speed the export of fracked crude oil and ramp up production. We've got to fight that push as hard as possible -- and President Obama should play a key role in that critical struggle.
The budget deal preserves a straightforward way to prevent a new fracking frenzy and surge in greenhouse pollution: President Obama can declare a national emergency and prohibit exports for a year -- and that prohibition can be renewed indefinitely.
In rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama acknowledged the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. In his final year in office, he can still build a positive climate legacy if he prohibits oil exports and takes other key steps like ending new auctions of publicly owned oil, gas, and coal on federal lands and oceans as hundreds of environmental organizations and community leaders have petitioned him to do.
But if he doesn't prohibit exports, and if oil companies get their way, lifting the ban will increase domestic oil production by more than 3 million barrels a day, according to a recent estimate by the Center for American Progress. As a result the United States would sacrifice more than 100 square miles of land a year to drilling and oil infrastructure and face risks from the annual transport of enough oil to fill 4,500 explosive rail tank cars.
And our planet would suffer the release of more than 500 million tons of additional carbon pollution per year. That's equivalent to building about 135 dirty coal-fired power plants or putting 100 million new passenger cars on the road.
It could hardly be clearer that the climate crisis poses a national emergency. A melting Arctic, rising seas, droughts, floods, heatwaves and ever more devastating monster storms are wreaking havoc on our nation.
Averting the most damaging consequences of climate change requires that we shift away from fossil fuels entirely and achieve a just transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy by no later than 2050. Exporting crude oil abroad is simply incompatible with responding to the climate crisis and must be stopped.
To protect our climate, the president must act today. To preserve his climate legacy, he has to keep fossil fuels in the ground -- and that means taking every measure he can to stop the export of America's dirty crude oil.
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