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Activists Slam Biden Admin’s Approval of Largest Offshore Oil Export Terminal

Fenceline communities will again be at risk for more oil spills, explosions and pollution, says one climate advocate.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the economy during at an event in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on November 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Climate action groups are vehemently rejecting the Biden administration’s claim that the approval of a new offshore oil terminal — planned to be the largest in the U.S. — is in the “national interest,” after the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the project had met several federal requirements and could begin operations by 2027.

The agency’s Maritime Administration said last week that Enterprise Product Partners, a Houston-based pipeline company, had been granted a deepwater port license to build the Sea Port Oil Terminal (SPOT) near Freeport, Texas following a five-year federal review process.

The federal government determined the $1.8 billion terminal project had undergone sufficient environmental impact reviews and would overall benefit the country — even as it was projected by the Sierra Club, which has fought SPOT for several years, to emit greenhouse gases equivalent to those of nearly 90 coal-fired power plants.

“The evidence is clear that SPOT would be catastrophic to the climate, wildlife, and frontline communities of the Gulf,” said Devorah Ancel, senior attorney with the Sierra Club. “It threatens the future existence of the endangered Rice’s whale with a population of less than fifty, and its ozone pollution would compromise the health of thousands of Gulf residents who have endured decades of fossil fuel industry pollution. Make no mistake, SPOT is not in the national interest.”

The project is expected to include two pipelines that would carry crude oil to the deepwater port each day, enabling the export of 2 million barrels of crude oil, loaded onto two supertankers at once, daily.

“Nothing about this project is in alignment with Biden’s climate and environmental justice goals,” said Kelsey Crane, senior policy advocate at Earthworks. “The communities that will be impacted by SPOT have once again been ignored and will be forced to live with the threat of more oil spills, explosions, and pollution. The best way to protect the public and the climate from the harms of oil is to keep it in the ground.”

Allie Rosenbluth, U.S. manager at Oil Change International, noted that the project has been approved despite the International Energy Agency’s clear assessment in 2021 that “all new investments in oil and gas projects must stop if the world is going to reach its climate goals,” including limiting planetary heating to 1.5°C.

“The Biden administration’s decision to approve the Sea Port Oil Terminal is a grave mistake. This approval will only harm local communities and ecosystems, and lead to even more devastating impacts of the climate crisis,” said Rosenbluth. “The U.S. is already the largest producer of oil and gas and has the largest expansion plans globally. Instead of continuing this legacy of harm by approving fossil fuel projects, President Biden should be listening to the science and the masses of his constituents calling for an end to fossil fuels.”

The direct action group Climate Defiance expressed doubt that the approval of SPOT will help Biden win over any voters as the 2024 election approaches.

Nine in 10 Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independents told Pew Research Center last year that they believe the U.S. should prioritize developing renewable energy sources — and two-thirds of Republican voters under age 30 agreed.

“This project would be the single-largest oil export terminal in the U.S.” said the group. “We are being boiled alive here, literally burned to death by ‘moderate’ politicians who see fit to torch us in the name of quarterly profits. How can we live like this? How can this go on?”

Last year was the hottest on record, and the first three months of 2024 have each broken records for high global temperatures. Scientists found last year that climate disasters including wildfires in Canada and extreme heat in Europe were made far more likely by fossil-fueled planetary heating.

Local organizers in Texas condemned the Biden administration’s decision to ignore campaigners who have warned of the danger SPOT poses to marine habitats as well as people who live in the area where two crude oil pipelines have now been given final approval to run.

“We continue to struggle to see why Biden and [Transportation Secretary Pete] Buttigieg prefer to protect the corporate profits of billion-dollar oil giants like Enbridge and Enterprise over the hardcore objections of the people who would have to live with the consequences of pipelines criss-crossing our beaches,” said Trevor Carroll, Brazoria County lead organizer with Texas Campaign for the Environment. “If you care about environmental justice and the climate, you just can’t support a monstrosity like SPOT. The local community and the global climate justice movement are continuing to fight… This is not over.”

Melanie Oldham, director of Better Brazoria, said SPOT will be “an oil spill waiting to happen that would not only lower property value, but harm our local ecosystems, ecotourism, beaches, recreation, and kill marine life like the endangered Rice’s whale and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.”

“Those of us residents, beachgoers, and voters that have for the past four years opposed the SPOT offshore terminal and pipelines are very disappointed with the approval of the project license,” said Oldham. “President Biden has again broken promises to protect frontline communities in Surfside and Freeport.”

The administration’s approval came three months after the White House announced it was delaying consideration of new gas export terminals, and the same day the federal government said fossil fuel companies will have to pay higher royalties in order to drill on federal lands.

But those climate actions paired with the SPOT approval amount only to “flip flopping,” said Climate Defiance.

“It is not enough that the administration stopped new gas exports if they are going to back stab us with this death-sentence decision now,” said the group. “This is not us being ‘ungrateful.’ This is the science. The pure, unvarnished, science.”

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