The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing this month to discuss the fate of the Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore Act (ASTRO Act). If passed, the act will amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSL) which impedes the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) from being leased out to oil & gas companies near specific states along the coasts of America. In short, this is an oil & gas industry dream and an environmentalist’s nightmare.
Passing the ASTRO Act means opening up these protected areas of the OCS to leasing for offshore drilling. If that happens, coastal communities that rely on the oceans and Gulf for their livelihoods are opened up to the inevitable issues that arise from oil drilling and spilling. But that’s not all the Act does. Here are some of the worst parts of the Act:
Takes the power from the President.
The Astro Act seeks to remove certain powers from future presidents. The Act removes the ability of future presidents to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate marine national monuments, which gives certain areas federal protection. The president currently also has the ability to label parts of the Outer Continental Shelf as off limits to offshore leases. The Act denies this power and voids the previous actions of presidents who have done this.
Takes away the voice of affected communities.
The ASTRO Act amends a law passed in 1978 that required the Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management (BOEM) to seek out the input of local people in coastal areas affected by offshore drilling. By facilitating a dialogue with the general public and local leaders, BOEM gives the people who were most affected a voice. The ASTRO Act abolishes this law and bypasses the requirement that gives a voice to the stakeholders in the matter. This means that the Secretary of the Interior has the power to lease out areas of federal waters without ever having to hear from affected communities.
Dismantles progress made after the BP Drilling Disaster.
In 1982, James Watt, then Secretary of the Interior, created the Mineral Management Service in order to manage federal water leases. The formation of this organization resulting in the sales of over 1 billion acres of federal waters to offshore drilling companies. A report released by the inspector general Earl E. Deveny later revealed that this organization was innately corrupt. The report uncovered the fact that many members of MMS were regularly taking gifts from Big Oil companies in exchange for access to federal waters. After the horrendous BP Oil Drilling Disaster, President Obama led an initiative with the Secretary of the Interior at the time which oversaw the breaking up of this organization into three different agencies in order to stop the corruption. ASTRO seeks to reunify these organizations.
Provides political payouts for states who agree to its terms.
In order to gain support for this legislation, the Act provides monetary incentives for coastal state politicians, known as a “coastal political subdivision”. Under the Act,revenue from Big Oil companies that is supposed to go to the federal government and taxpaying Americans would instead flow to reluctant politicians who allow drilling near their coasts. The closer the drilling is allowed to occur, the more money the local government receives. ASTRO increases the cap for revenue sharing in order to pay for this, which would cost the federal government $12 billion.
Abolishes Arctic specific guidelines.
Drilling in the Arctic is notoriously difficult and also dangerous for the workers and the environment. Freezing conditions make it incredibly hard to fix oil spills when they occur and since this environment is so harsh, specific guidelines for drilling in the Arctic were created under the Obama Administration. The ASTRO Act repeals these guidelines, opening up the Arctic to indiscriminate drilling.
If the ASTRO Act is passed, the House Natural Resources Committee will allow all of these things to happen. While some companies and members of the government would have you believe that this act will create jobs, open up the market, and boost the economy, the fact is that coastal communities and the oceanic environment will shoulder the great costs of offshore drilling. As we have seen in the Gulf, offshore drilling equals offshore spilling. In the current declining crude oil market, it just doesn’t make sense to open up these waters just for the sake of appeasing special interests and the oil and gas industry.