Dear President Biden,
The climate crisis, caused overwhelmingly by fossil fuels, poses an existential threat to every aspect of society. The harms from fossil fuel extraction, exports and climate disruption fall first and worst on Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other Communities of Color, as well as low-wealth and other frontline communities. In order to limit warming to 1.5⁰ Celsius in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and advance environmental justice, the United States must not only stop producing and burning fossil fuels at home but also stop exporting them to be burned elsewhere. Accordingly, we ask that you use your executive authority as President to reinstate the ban on crude oil exports, ban gas exports, end coal exports, and reject proposed fossil fuel export infrastructure.
In one of your first acts of climate leadership as President, you directed the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to “take steps, consistent with applicable law, to ensure that Federal infrastructure investment reduces climate pollution, and to require that Federal permitting decisions consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.”
Accordingly, the undersigned organizations representing millions of supporters and members call on you to take action immediately as follows:
- Reinstate the ban on crude oil exports. Declare a Climate Emergency under the National Emergencies Act to reinstate the crude oil export ban on an annual basis.
- Ban gas exports to the fullest extent possible. Direct the Department of Energy to find that natural gas exports are not in the public interest due to their climate harms and stop approving new applications, at a minimum, to all countries without a free trade agreement as enumerated under the Natural Gas Act.
- Reject fossil fuel export infrastructure. Direct federal agencies to deny all permits and approvals for oil, gas, coal, and petrochemical export facilities except in the exceptionally rare circumstances where the applicable statute(s) may prohibit denial.
Oil and gas exports are on the rise, driven by the fracking boom and enabled by Congress’ reversal of the 40-year-old crude oil export ban in 2015. A 2020 report found that oil exports have increased by 750% since 2015, peaking at approximately 3.4 million barrels per day in 2019. As of October 2019, 24% of all crude extracted in the United States was exported. Gas exports are on a similar trajectory. In the first half of 2019, US liquid gas exports averaged 4.1 billion Bcf/d, more than double the daily average for 2018.
The surge of oil and gas exports is driven by a massive expansion of fracking, which has created booms and busts across the U.S. in the 17 years since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was signed by President Geroge W. Bush. Fracked oil and gas wells decline faster than conventional wells, leaving behind a scarred landscape and tremendous risk of closure liabilities to be borne by taxpayers.
The latest, most dangerous oil and gas boom is in the Permian Basin. Situated over approximately 6,000 square miles in west Texas and Southeast New Mexico, the Permian is effectively the largest carbon bomb on the planet. Burning all the oil, gas, and gas liquids projected to be produced in the Permian Basin between 2021 and 2050 would emit 42 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 400 typical U.S. coal plants over the 31-year period — or roughly 10% of the world’s remaining carbon budget under a 1.5° scenario. This does not include emissions from methane releases, meaning the actual climate impact is likely magnitudes higher. Because US refiners cannot process more Permian crude, effectively every new barrel of oil produced is exported —causing substantial, unnecessary harm to communities and the climate along the way. If the dozens of proposed oil and LNG export projects under federal jurisdiction are built, Gulf Coast communities will suffer acute, significant impacts of added pollution, and then take a double hit when climate disasters strike. The urgency of changing course is all-too-real for Gulf Coast communities that were hit by 2020’s record-breaking hurricane season and 2021’s infrastructure-crippling deep freeze.
The 2015 legislation lifting the crude oil export ban allows the President to reinstate the ban on a year-by-year basis through declaring a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act, the law that codifies the emergency powers of the President. Since it was passed in 1976, every President has declared multiple national emergencies under this law. In April 2016, 350 organizations petitioned President Obama to reinstate the crude oil export ban, setting forth the climate rationale. Since that time, the case for reinstating the ban has only grown stronger and more urgent. In January, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on you to declare a national climate emergency, alongside a growing chorus of Members of Congress advancing the National Climate Emergency Act of 2021 and nearly 750 organizations nationwide.
As President, you can also immediately ban at least a subset of gas exports. Parties seeking to export gas must file an application with the Department of Energy pursuant to the Natural Gas Act. While the Act mandates a finding of public interest for export to countries with existing free trade agreements, for exports to all other countries, you may clearly direct the Department of Energy on the criteria for the public interest finding. You have both the legal authority and the moral, scientific, and political imperative to find that gas exports are not in the public interest due to their climate harms and prohibit exports to countries to the fullest extent allowed under the Natural Gas Act.
In addition, we call on you to do everything within your power as President to end coal exports. The U.S. is a net exporter of coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. In 2020 the United States exported about 69 MMst of coal—equal to about 13% of U.S. coal production. We also ask you to end overseas finance for fossil fuel exports and infrastructure, consistent with a letter signed by over 400 organizations worldwide.
The United States must be a global leader in advancing climate, racial and economic justice, end the era of fossil fuel exports and build back fossil free, delivering jobs, justice, and opportunity for all.