Biden should not continue to sacrifice our oceans for the fossil-fuel industry | Opinion

The deadly heat wave gripping the southern United States and northern Mexico is just the latest evidence of the urgency of the climate crisis.

We must stop extracting fossil fuels from the earth and burning them. Yet, the U.S. Department of the Interior is considering a five-year oil and gas leasing program for the nation’s oceans that greenlights new areas for development.

The plan, expected this fall, would generate carbon emissions up to 10 times the size of the Willow project, a massive oil-drilling project in the Alaskan Arctic that the Biden administration recently approved.

That’s the opposite of what we need. The head of the United Nations recently said fossil fossils are “incompatible with human survival,” while the International Energy Agency (IEA) has recommended an immediate end to new oil and gas supply projects globally to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a date that increasingly looks far too late to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

When will this country stop sacrificing predominantly Black and indigenous communities for oil and gas? At a critical moment, when we need an equitable transition to justly sourced renewable energy, the fossil-fuel industry continues to rip through Alaska and devastate the Gulf South.

There is still time for President Biden to make the right decision. He can, and should, choose people over polluters. We call on the president and the Department of Interior to prevent oil drilling that threatens our climate, communities and wildlife. Millions across the nation opposed the Willow project’s approval and are joining the movement to end the era of fossil fuels.

A majority of voters do not want to expand offshore drilling, according to new polling — communities across the country know well the dangers of offshore drilling for human health, wildlife and the climate. Voters under 30, in particular, disapprove of the president’s record on climate and energy.

The risk of environmental disaster from offshore drilling is not a question of if disaster will strike, but when. Greenlighting more offshore drilling puts oil and gas profits over the lives of Black residents and people of color living in the most polluted areas of the Gulf South, where most offshore drilling occurs.

That oil comes ashore to be refined at toxic facilities in poor and often Black and indigenous communities that are also in the path of climate disasters. Who can forget the stories of families in Cancer Alley on their rooftops trying to escape Hurricane Ida’s flooding in 2021 as the surrounding chemical plants continued to pump out carcinogens?

We don’t need more offshore drilling to meet the nation’s energy needs. An analysis by industry experts found that, even without a single new lease offering, oil production in the United States will remain steady into 2035, at which point the nation’s transition to renewable energy will be approaching maturity. Leases issued now don’t start producing oil and gas for five to 10 years. Auctioning off millions of acres of public waters for new fossil-fuel projects simply threatens to lock in greenhouse-gas emissions well past 2035, putting the United States further from its climate goals.

Oil and gas producers already lease more than 11.5 million offshore acres (and aren’t even drilling on 75% of them). We don’t need to sell off more of our ocean to Big Oil.

Every oil spill began with an offshore lease sale. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster unleashed horrific economic and environmental damage, and people are still experiencing its toxic health impacts to this day. Gulf South communities are ready for the president to say “enough is enough,” and prioritize the lives of Black, brown, Asian, indigenous and other communities over profits for fossil-fuel executives and their political allies.

Biden’s ambitious climate commitments require the nation to wean itself off fossil fuels in favor of a renewable-energy future. As a critical step toward achieving this, Biden should move the country off of its addiction to fossil fuels by barring new leasing on public lands and waters.

Zanagee Artis leads advocacy to limit new fossil-fuel leasing and development on public lands and waters at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is the founder and executive director of Zero Hour.

Kendall Dix is national policy director for Taproot Earth, a global organization that cultivates solutions among frontline communities advancing climate justice and democracy.