I was 8 years old when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened, but I can still picture the news coverage of dead animals covered in oil and the devastation communities faced along the Gulf Coast. It’s not shocking that I still remember this tragedy so vividly. Millions of gallons of spilled oil devastated seabirds and sea turtles and littered coastlines with tar balls over a hundred miles from the explosion. Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous, and this was only one of the many tragedies it has caused.
Over a decade later, our Gulf coast is still at risk from drilling. At the beginning of July, the Department of Interior released its proposed Five-Year Plan for oil and gas leasing in our ocean, which lays out when and where the government can offer public waters for drilling from 2023 to 2028. The Biden administration announced it could offer almost 95 million acres of our ocean for leasing within this five-year period in the Gulf alone. And then last weekend, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a bill that invests heavily in clean energy but also offers up areas in the Gulf and Alaska for offshore leasing — a move that could lock in drilling for decades to come.
Tying my generation to a system that puts short-term gains over the long-term health of people and the planet is the wrong move. Burning fossil fuels is the main contributor to the climate crisis. While neither proposal would put a rig immediately off Florida’s beaches, our communities would still face the long-term repercussions of drilling in the Gulf and any federal waters—that’s just how far the harms of offshore drilling reach.
Climate change is deadly for our planet, people, and wildlife. Horrifying images of wildfires and rising death tolls from extreme temperatures dominate headlines and social media feeds. Deadly storms continue to upend communities, forcing people to flee their homes forever. At times, it’s hard to remember which areas are burning and which are drowning.
In Florida, we don’t take this lightly; communities have endured environmental, social and economic impacts because these disasters continue to occur. Pollution and devastation from past spills motivate locals to come together to resist the continued threat Gulf drilling poses to Tampa Bay.
I joined this movement because I’m worried about my future. Working with Florida PIRG Students, a student-led, non-profit, non-partisan organization, it’s clear my generation cares about climate justice and that we know we can’t sit idly by, watching our future disappear in front of us. We shouldn’t have to keep paying for the mistakes of the past, waiting on bated breath for when the next spill will happen. Our generation needs a healthy planet, not more fossil fuels that pollute the environment and lower our quality of life. Leading scientists have made it explicitly clear: We cannot confront the climate crisis and ensure a livable future on this planet without leaving fossil fuels in the past. A key step in that transition is saying “no” to any new drilling in our ocean.
We look to federal leaders to provide this transition and a healthier vision for the future. While the IRA does require the Biden administration to hold a few lease sales in the upcoming year, President Biden and the Department of Interior have broad discretion to decide what drilling leasing will occur after 2023. We need them to choose the health of our ocean, our communities, and our climate by scheduling no new leases for offshore drilling in their final Five-Year Plan.
We can’t afford to be locked into this system that drives climate change for a minute longer — let alone decades. To ensure the Biden administration acts to end offshore drilling leasing after 2023, send a comment to the federal government today and help my generation secure a livable future.
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Chloe McKenna is a senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and currently serves as the Chapter Chair of Florida PIRG Students on campus. She interns with the Reduce Single-Use Project at Eckerd, led both the First and Second Cohorts of the US Youth Advisory Council for the UN Ocean Decade as a Co-Chair, and founded the Orange County, California Chapter of Heirs To Our Oceans, an international youth-led organization, in 2017.