Congressional Democrats just betrayed America’s working class.
The House recently passed a series of bills banning offshore energy development, a significant source of employment for blue-collar Americans. Fueled by environmental fervor, these lawmakers are willing to sacrifice opportunities for their most important constituents.
There could be up to 90 billion barrels of oil and 328 trillion cubic feet of gas buried beneath federally owned sections of the ocean floor. That’s enough oil and natural gas to power the United States for over a decade. Ideally, energy companies would lease these underwater lands from the government and extract this bounty.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration outlawed energy development in over 90% 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. But House Democrats are doing their best to stop him. The bills they passed last month would ban energy development off of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Alaskan coasts.
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 $110,000. Even under existing federal constraints, offshore development supports 300,000 jobs.
Opening up offshore territory would create 730,000 additional jobs over the next 20 years. Coastal states like Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas would particularly benefit. Increased offshore development would bring 25,000 additional jobs to Virginia and 50,000 jobs to North Carolina within 20 years.
Still, Democrats claim it’s an environmental imperative to ban offshore drilling. Rep. Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat and lead sponsor of one of the recently passed bills said that offshore drilling would “ruin our vibrant natural resources.” Beto O’Rourke recently echoed that point on the presidential campaign trail, when he told a crowd that “offshore drilling threatens the local wildlife.”
These concerns are entirely 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.
If anything, this anti-offshore campaign could 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. If Democrats have their way, that money will vanish.
Now more than ever, the United States needs access to its domestic oil and gas resources. A drone attack on a major Saudi oil facility recently wiped out 5 percent of the world’s daily crude oil production. Tapping our offshore resources will help insulate Americans from supply shocks like this in the future.
Luckily, these bills won’t get far. The Republican-controlled Senate will never go for such an extreme plan and President Trump has promised to veto any offshore bans that cross his desk.
Still, actions speak louder than words. By moving this legislation, House Democrats have shown that they aren’t serious about improving the lives of the working class. If they were, they wouldn’t pursue policies that make it harder for Americans to find good, stable jobs.
Donald Bryson is president and CEO of the Civitas Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Raleigh.
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