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President Obama's Crude Oil Exports Decision Is True Climate Test

The president must understand a simple fact: Fossil fuels have to stay in the ground.
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That was fast. Immediately after returning from the Paris climate summit, President Barack Obama faces a true test of the commitments he made in France to fight global warming.

A rider attached to the 2016 appropriations bill just unveiled by Congress will remove any restrictions on the export of U.S. crude oil.

The president must understand a simple fact: Fossil fuels have to stay in the ground.

Lifting the crude export ban is just not compatible with fighting climate change. It would increase planet-warming pollution and unleash a tidal wave of fracking and dangerous drilling upon America's vulnerable communities and precious wildlife habitat.

It's no surprise this terrible measure found its way into the omnibus bill. Each year Congressional Republicans threaten shut down the government by blocking necessary spending bills until their demand list of hand-outs to polluters and special interests is met.

It's time for the president to stand firm against this reprehensible tactic. He should veto the omnibus and insist on a clean bill that does not lift the ban on crude oil exports or contain other back-door attacks on our climate, health and democracy.

No political deal could justify the terrible decision to lift the crude oil export ban. But the Congressional horse-trading that led to this measure would give away the ban in exchange for just five years of limited tax incentives for the solar and wind industries. That's absurd by any measure.

For more than 40 years, the crude export ban has served as a critical safeguard for our climate, health and energy security.

Completely ending the ban could 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 fire-prone 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.

Ending the ban will also increase the risk of gasoline price spikes, which harm ordinary Americans.

This proposal has many downsides and absolutely no upsides. The only thing it does is increase the oil industry's already massive profits. That's why 70 percent of Americans oppose lifting the ban.

The president's decision on crude exports comes at a pivotal time. The Paris talks showcased a large and growing global movement urging world leaders to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

That movement has strong support from climate experts. Scientists have estimated that at least 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if the world is to have a realistic chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

A substantial portion of those unburnable fossil fuels lies in the United States. Earlier this year, for example, a study commissioned by my organization and Friends of the Earth determined that halting new fossil fuel leases on America's public lands and oceans would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution from escaping into the atmosphere.

But lifting the export ban takes us in the opposite direction.

In Paris, President Obama spoke with great conviction about the urgent need to fight climate change. "If we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won't be too late for them," he said.

Those strong words must be matched by strong action. If the president meant what he said, he must veto the omnibus budget bill and insist that Congress go back to drawing board and produce a clean and sensible budget proposal - one that doesn't help push our planet off the climate cliff.

That's why every American should urge President Obama to halt this climate outrage by contacting him now.

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