Congress' Next Polluter Giveaway: Lifting the Crude Oil Export Ban

For 40 years, the United States has banned the export of crude oil, largely keeping American oil in American hands. Removing these export restrictions would have consequences -- environmental and economic consequences that would land on the shoulders of the American people while polluters would collect a handsome payday.

It may not come as a surprise that about a month ago, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill to lift the crude oil export ban -- once again putting polluter profits ahead of their constituents. The bill is now before the Senate, where Big Oil and the American Petroleum Institute are lobbying harder than ever for it to pass. Fortunately, President Obama has vowed to veto this unnecessary giveaway to Big Polluters.

We could talk about the environmental impacts of lifting this export ban. Just like blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, the crude oil export ban has helped us keep dirty oil where it belongs -- in the ground. Lifting the ban is a starter's pistol for the amply profiting oil industry to increase drilling in the United States by as much as 500,000 barrels per day, which would encourage Big Oil to drill in sensitive areas.

Here's why: opening more markets to the American oil industry means their products can sell at the higher world prices, increasing the value of reserves in harder-to-drill areas. Unfortunately, this means that despite Shell's decision to suspend operations, the Arctic could once again appear enticing -- a potentially profitable venture.

This increases the pressure to drill and sell leases in the Arctic, which comes with the incredible risk of more catastrophic spills, like the Exxon Valdez spill that devastated Alaska's southern coastline. Can you imagine the devastation to come from a spill on the frigid, storm-tossed waters of the Arctic? Opening up the crude oil industry to exports places America's treasured lands and our coasts on the target list for more drilling.

We could also talk about the climate implications of lifting the export ban. With America producing more oil to meet world demands, this also means more of our oil would be burned, pushing us another step down the catastrophic climate change road: stronger storms, rising seas, crippling droughts, and raging wildfires. For decades, companies like Exxon have known the harmful environmental impacts of their business practices. Yet it hasn't stopped them from canvassing the planet in search of more reserves.

If there is a chance that the world will not warm more than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century -- the long term goal set in international climate negotiations -- we need to speed our transition to clean energy and leave the vast majority of oil reserves right where they are, in the ground, instead of trying to find new ways and places to extract every last drop just to send overseas. Lifting the crude oil export ban is a step in the wrong direction.

We could talk about higher gas prices too. With more international demand, oil companies will charge higher prices for crude oil, enlarging their profits while increasing gas prices for hardworking families. This cost to American families comes on top of the five billion dollars per year that taxpayers already give to the oil industry. In the end, this bill to lift the crude oil export ban hands billions of dollars to polluters, plain and simple.

What we really should talk about is what this bill says about the priorities of the members of Congress leading the charge on it. Instead of promoting dirty energy that degrades our lands and harms our climate, America's energy and environmental policy should be focused on promoting clean energy, energy efficiency, and other solutions to climate change while investing in America's natural heritage. Let's stop the giveaways to Big Polluters and focus on what's in the best interests of the American people.