Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill

Source: By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill • Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A new bill from House Democrats turns to the oceans as a way to fight climate change, proposing to expand offshore wind while barring drilling along America’s coasts.

The more than 300-page legislation is broadly billed as a “blue carbon” bill — a way to harvest clean energy while protecting fisheries and resources like marshes and wetlands that can store carbon and protect eroding shorelines.

The Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act, introduced Tuesday, comes as the ocean is rapidly warming and acidifying, a result of climate change and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

The bill directs the Department of the Interior to up the number of permits for offshore wind projects, where higher wind speeds allow windmills to generate more electricity than they do on land.

The bill also repackages some measures already before the House, such as a pledge to conserve 30 percent of oceans by 2030 and an approved measure to bar offshore drilling along both coasts that has failed to advance in the Senate.

“This bill recognizes that oceans also must be part of a rapid transition to clean energy that starts with prohibiting any new offshore oil and gas leases because you can’t solve the crisis by continuing to dig the climate hole deeper,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Lawmakers say the legislation, which includes increasing benchmarks for permitting offshore wind that would double between 2025 and 2030, would speed the construction of planned projects that have stalled under the Trump administration. 

“This administration has an all-of-the-above [energy] policy, but what it really translates into is like ‘Animal Farm,’” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), another co-sponsor.

“All animals are equal, only some are more equal than others. They are permitting at a fast rate all oil and gas. We have been waiting now for 18 months for the first completion of offshore wind,” he added.

The bill also includes $3 billion to support “coastal resiliency” efforts designed to combat rising sea levels. Those projects could include planting salt marshes or sea grass that help keep coastlines intact and can absorb carbon.

Another measure would also make algal blooms, which suck the oxygen needed for plant and animal life, eligible for federal disaster relief and emergency assistance.

To help fulfill the goal of conserving 30 percent of oceans by 2030, the bill would establish a process for designating national marine sanctuaries. It would also establish “deep sea coral marine conservation areas” to further protect coral from deep-sea fishing gear.

The legislation also includes efforts to reduce emissions from large vessels, blocking federal loan guarantees unless ships undergo measures to become more fuel efficient and starting a program to monitor greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry.

Updated at 3:43 p.m.