Commentary: Make offshore oil a litmus test for 2020 election

Charleston Post and Courier
April 24, 2019


Litmus tests for Presidential candidates are difficult. While candidates might agree on a goal, there are usually multiple paths to achieving that goal.

For example, much has been written about Medicare for All possibly being a litmus test for Democratic Presidential candidates wanting to achieve universal healthcare.

The candidates have not cooperated. We are seeing multiple plans endorsed by the candidates. These plans include Medicare for All, Medicare for America, Medicare-X, Medicare at 50 and beefing up the Affordable Care Act.

However, there is another very important issue that does lend itself to a course of action I believe should be a litmus test for all these same candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is the first Democratic presidential candidate to officially release her position on offshore drilling for oil along all of the nation’s coasts. In an op-ed published April 15 in Medium, Warren wrote:

“…on my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that says no more drilling  —  a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands.”

Other candidates for the Democratic nomination have made comments about the issue of offshore drilling. Back in February Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told a South Carolina radio audience that she would “reverse” the Trump administration’s plan to open the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic to drilling. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., says on his website that he would ban fossil fuel leases on public lands.

However, it is Sen. Warren who is first with an official, highly-specific action plan to stop the growth of offshore drilling.

Her proposed moratorium on new drilling leases would not stop drilling in existing lease areas in the Gulf, Pacific and Arctic. But her plan would completely shut the door on drilling for oil in the Atlantic if the federal government has not awarded leases at the time.

With voters overwhelmingly opposed to drilling off their coasts, Sen. Warren’s action plan for blocking all new drilling leases should be the litmus test for all candidates.

Presidential action to block offshore drilling in the Atlantic and curtail it in the other areas must be immediately carried out upon taking the oath of office. The executive order to make it happen should be ready to be signed minutes after the new president is sworn in. There are no studies, discussions or negotiations needed.

Presidential candidates will need to pass this offshore-drilling litmus test if they hope to be victorious in coastal states.

However, a plan for an immediate moratorium on offshore oil drilling leases is not just a litmus test for candidates. It is also a clear signal to the petroleum industry that it should abandon its expansion plans.

Big Oil wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to explore for oil off our coasts. It is reported that the U.S. Department of Interior is very close to approving seismic permits for the Atlantic to find possible oil deposits.

We know how this airgun blasting will wreak destruction to marine life. And local coastal economies will see their commercial and recreational fishing harmed and sea-based tourism suffer.

If all Democratic candidates adopt this litmus-test moratorium plan, it will tell the petroleum industry in no uncertain terms that their offshore oil drilling expansion efforts are a risky gamble on the re-election of President Trump.

In as little as 21 months the industry’s ambition for drilling for oil in the Atlantic could be over. Its designs on expansion of offshore drilling everywhere else along U.S. coasts will be blocked. And the writing was on the litmus-test wall.

Frank Knapp Jr. is president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

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