Ben Hellerstein: For climate's sake, keep oil export ban

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BOSTON >> The need for urgent action to curb global warming pollution is clear. We've already seen a rise in extreme weather events, like last winter's record snowstorms and this fall's heavy flooding, that are linked to climate change.

So why is Congress considering a proposal that would increase the pollution fueling global warming?

The House voted earlier this fall to lift the long-standing ban on crude oil exports. Now, it's up to President Obama and the Senate to stop this dangerous proposal — a big boost for the oil companies at the expense of the climate and our health.

Transportation issue

Lifting the crude oil export ban would increase carbon emissions by almost 22 million metric tons per year, equivalent to the amount of pollution produced by five coal plants. It would increase drilling in the United States, with significant health consequences for nearby communities.

Transporting this oil is another matter. If it were conveyed by rail, the extra oil would require enough trains to span the country from Los Angeles to Boston seven times. And pipelines carry their own risks. Either way, shipping more oil across the country would cause even more pollution and put more American communities at risk from devastating spills.

The real beneficiaries of this misguided proposal are the oil companies, who stand to increase their profits by billions of dollars while endangering communities and the climate.

This year is on pace to be the hottest year ever recorded. Perhaps even more alarming, in September, a new study found that burning the earth's remaining fossil fuels would melt all of Antarctica — causing sea levels to surge more than 160 feet and plunging major cities underwater.

To avert climate catastrophe, we must end our dependence on fossil fuels and chart a course to 100 percent pollution-free, renewable energy. That means supporting President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which places the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It means renewing tax incentives for wind and solar at the federal level. It means removing obstacles to clean energy at the state level, like the caps on solar net metering, and harnessing Massachusetts' ample offshore wind capacity.

And it means keeping the ban on exporting U.S. crude oil overseas in place.

Climate before profits

In the short term, lifting the ban will line the pockets of Exxon and other major oil companies while threatening public health. In the long term, it will make it even harder to solve the climate crisis.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts have stood strong against lifting the ban. We need our senators, along with President Obama, to continue speaking out on this issue. The safety of our communities and the stability of our climate matter more than the profits of a few.

Ben Hellerstein is the state director for Environment Massachusetts, a statewide environmental advocacy organization working to protect clean air, clean water, and open space.


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