On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we write in opposition to the Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore Act (ASTRO) (November 8, 2017). The bill is an extreme approach to the management of our offshore resources, eliminates or modifies common-sense management tools, and puts at risk our natural environment, coastal communities and economies. Specifically, the bill would:
- Eliminate the long-standing presidential authority used by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act to establish marine national monuments.
- Gut core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to fast-track seismic airgun surveys and other activities in the ocean that can harm whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals, prevent the permits from requiring almost any kind of mitigation, and require automatic approval of permits if the agency misses a series of tight deadlines. - Eliminate the long-standing presidential authority under OCSLA section 12(a) to withdraw from oil and gas leasing areas of the OCS, except for those areas within national marine sanctuaries, and revoke existing withdrawals that are not in existing sanctuaries or monuments.
- Nullify common-sense Arctic exploratory drilling safety protections.
- Create perverse incentives to drill in sensitive areas, including in the Atlantic, Gulf and Arctic offshore.
Currently, the Executive Branch has a mandate, through the preparation of OCS leasing programs, to balance economic, social and environmental factors when deciding whether to make offshore areas available for oil and gas leasing. It also has the discretion under OCSLA Section 12(a) to protect sensitive values of the offshore environment from oil and gas activities and to protect important historical and environmental attributes of our marine legacy under the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act alone has been used on a bipartisan basis to protect some of our nation’s most important natural offshore treasures from Glacier Bay to the Pacific Remote Islands. This bill would eliminate these important safeguards and force government to prioritize the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of protections for our marine and coastal environments, and the people and economies that they sustain.
The existing substantive offshore safety rules and institutional structures were crafted with significant input from industry, have not hampered offshore access or operations, and represent a continued evolution of management of our offshore activities. The bill would roll back these protections and significantly increase risks to offshore workers, the environment and all who rely on our sustainable marine resources and clean coasts for their livelihoods, cultures, nutrition and recreation. Moreover, ASTRO would exacerbate the already-significant and increasing impacts of climate change on our citizens and environment.
It is hard to understand what legitimate justification can be offered for such a drastic change to existing law. Oil prices continue to be relatively low and stable and are projected to remain so for the foreseeable future. The industry has stockpiled more than 16 million acres of offshore leases, yet is active on less than 4.5 million of those acres. Further, the United States is already producing so much oil that we export it. Consequently, there is no immediate or even long-term need to expose more of our coasts and communities to the hazards and harms of offshore drilling as represented in ASTRO.
In short, ASTRO represents a substantial step backward for our nation’s public lands, ocean and energy policies. We oppose this bill, and urge all members of Congress to oppose it as well. Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.