Exporting Oil and Protecting Wildlife

With U.S. petroleum production likely to increase, here’s how to safeguard the environment along the way.

This article was originally featured in the Wall Street Journal. 

With a vote in the House expected next week to allow the export of U.S. crude oil, most arguments are about the implications for gas prices, refining jobs and domestic output, or about the geopolitical ramifications of growing Russian and eventually Iranian oil exports. Missing in the debate are the consequences for the nation’s wildlife.

Increasing oil production will further degrade more than a million square acres of wildlife habitat and threaten at-risk species. It will also adversely affect the experiences of millions of American hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts, as well as the local jobs that support these activities.

With momentum appearing to build on both sides of the aisle for repealing export restrictions, Congress should insist that it be coupled with conservation measures to mitigate the impact of expanded oil development on wildlife and natural resources. These measures should include:

Substantial funding to restore wildlife habitat. Thousands of wildlife species in the U.S. face extinction in the coming decades, primarily due to the fragmentation of their habitat, forest fires, prolonged droughts and invasive species being exacerbated by a changing climate. Dedicating $1.3 billion annually to the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Account would help recover most of these at-risk species. This investment would not only be good for wildlife and outdoor recreation. It would provide industry with greater regulatory certainty by reducing future listings under the Endangered Species Act and avoiding more restrictive, and often expensive, emergency-recovery measures.

Permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Created in 1965, this fund protects America’s great outdoor spaces but is set to expire at the end of September. Congress should ensure that it is reauthorized and fully funded at $900 million annually.

Long-term extension of renewable-energy tax incentives. These incentives help promote appropriately sited clean energy, like solar and wind, and help offset increased carbon pollution from oil production. Clean-energy projects also should be able to employ the favorable tax treatment accorded to master limited partnerships, which are now available only to oil and gas ventures.

Hold the oil industry to high standards to minimize impacts on wildlife and public health. Loopholes that exempt the oil industry from some provisions of the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts should be closed. Also, the definitions of fuels that pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is financed primarily by an 8-cents-per-barrel tax on oil, should be expanded to include tar sands.

While my organization, the National Wildlife Federation, has deep concerns about lifting the ban on oil exports, the conservation measures outlined here would help secure the future of America’s wildlife and our outdoor heritage. The cost of these measures, about $3.2 billion annually, is a fraction of what the Energy Information Administration projects is a $29 billion annual increase in gross profits for oil companies and the expected royalties and tax revenues for the U.S. Treasury.  By investing in conservation to mitigate impacts on wildlife, we will demonstrate a renewed bipartisan commitment to fulfilling our stewardship responsibilities.

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