President Donald Trump re-emphasized his unwise commitment to fossil fuels at any cost last week, when his administration retracted federal restrictions on oil exploration and drilling along the entire U.S. coastline, including the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.
Strong state restrictions in many areas and, even more so, the low market prices for oil due to other sources, likely will prevent any major rush to exploit the new rules, at least for now.
A few days before Trump’s announcement, congressional Republican majorities more quietly imperiled the coastlines by allowing an important law to expire.
Beyond the 40 percent reduction in the federal corporate tax rate that Congress passed last year, lawmakers gave the oil industry another massive tax break.
Until the law expired Jan. 1, the federal government collected a 9 cents-per-barrel tax on domestic and imported crude oil and imported petroleum products to fund the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which was established following the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1986. The government uses the money to respond to oil spills.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the tax generated about $500 million a year, meaning that its expiration is a $500 million annual tax break for the oil industry.
The fund now holds about $5.75 billion, which is inadequate. Costs from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 officially totaled $62 billion, most of which was recovered from responsible companies through fines and litigation. But the initial government response included everything from a vast search and rescue mission, through damage assessments and economic assistance to adversely affected shore communities.
If drillers decide to exploit the availability of more tracts that have been opened by Trump, it will be all the more important for Congress to restore the tax. It should not wait for the next catastrophe to do so.
—The Citizens’ Voice