Americans are experiencing something beyond a generational energy crunch, but lawmakers of both parties are either apathetic, or too frightened of the environmental left to do anything to help.
Just two years ago, in the wake of Covid-19 and a tumultuous election year, Democrats and Republicans betrayed America’s working class through ill-conceived energy policies. It’s past time to reverse that betrayal.
In 2019, the U.S. House passed a series of bills banning offshore energy development, a significant source of employment for blue-collar Americans. Fueled by environmental fervor, these lawmakers were willing to sacrifice opportunities for their most important constituents.
Up to 90 billion barrels of oil and 328 trillion cubic feet of gas could be buried beneath federally owned sections of the ocean floor. Ideally, energy companies would lease these submerged lands from the government and extract this bounty. That’s enough oil and natural gas to power the United States for over a decade.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration outlawed energy development in more than 90 percent of federal offshore territories. This policy prevents companies from accessing energy riches in the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans — as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
Soon after taking office, President Trump vowed to lift this ban and revamp offshore energy production. However, in September 2020, President Trump crafted a moratorium on drilling off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina until 2032. A few weeks later, he extended that ban to include North Carolina and Virginia.
These policies deny working-class Americans prime employment opportunities. Jobs in the offshore sector often don’t require a college degree, are largely immune to outsourcing, and pay an average salary north of $75,000. Even under existing federal constraints, offshore development supports 300,000 jobs. Opening offshore territory would create hundreds of thousands of additional jobs over the next 20 years.
Still, the DC-elite, including Democrats and Republicans, claim it’s an environmental imperative to ban offshore drilling. Rep. Joe Cunningham (South Carolina-D) and lead sponsor of one of the bills and current Palmetto State gubernatorial candidate, said that offshore drilling would “ruin our vibrant natural resources.” Beto O’Rourke, former congressman and current Texas gubernatorial candidate, told a crowd that “offshore drilling threatens the local wildlife.”
These concerns are unwarranted. Offshore drilling is getting safer by the year. And energy development is tightly regulated to protect the environment. Every rig employs at least one “species observer” who is empowered to stop development if marine animals come too close to operations.
And while the environmental left, and Republican leaders that cave to them, are getting the vapors about environmental concerns, none of them are making a peep about the havoc offshore wind installations are wreaking on ocean ecosystems. In April, an article in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering found that the electromagnetic field created by wind farm cables creates deformities in lobsters and crabs, rendering them unable to swim. And in Massachusetts, there are accusations that the wind energy industry is making donations to environmental groups that raise serious questions about the ability of those groups to analyze the impacts of offshore wind on right whales, one of the world’s most endangered whale species.
Additionally, this anti-offshore drilling ban will likely damage the environment by choking off funding for a critical federal conservation program. A slice of tax revenue from offshore operations is earmarked for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps finance environmental preservation and national parks. Offshore operations contribute $900 million to this fund every year.
Actions speak louder than words. By moving legislation or signing an executive order to ban offshore exploration and drilling, Washington has shown that they aren’t serious about improving the lives of the working class. They wouldn’t pursue policies that make it harder for Americans to find good, stable jobs if they were.
As energy prices continue to skyrocket and the monthly budgets of American families are squeezed, it would be nice to know that someone in Washington is interested in helping to keep the lights on and groceries on the table. Unfortunately, both parties are too interested in the next news cycle to worry about governing.
This opinion piece first appeared in the June/July print issue of Carolina Journal.