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Published by Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA

January 2020

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A growing body of research has shown that continued investment in fossil fuel extraction will put global climate goals out of reach. The contradiction between a climate-safe emissions trajectory and increasing fossil fuel production is most stark in the United States, which the shale boom has made the world’s leading oil and gas producer.

One key factor in triggering this boom was the 2015 removal of the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

In this briefing, we find that reinstating the U.S. crude oil export ban could lead to reductions in global carbon emissions by as much as 73 to 165 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent each year – comparable to closing 19 to 42 coal plants. Reinstating the ban would also send a strong signal to energy investors that the fossil fuel era is drawing to a close, act as a failsafe against future export-directed investments and carbon leakage, and provide a useful policy lever over emissions beyond U.S. borders.

This briefing finds:

  • Legally, the next president can impose export restrictions only after declaring a national emergency. The next president should consider declaring a climate emergency as a part of his or her response to the crisis.
  • Congress should act to put crude export restrictions on a permanent legal footing by reinstating the ban, and should consider additional restrictions on exporting other fossil fuels, such as coal and liquefied natural gas, which would generate additional and substantial emissions reductions.
  • Export restrictions should initially focus on preventing the continued expansion of domestic fossil fuel production and exports – to prevent the “lock-in” of additional infrastructure and emissions – and should fully phase out exports as programs to support workers and communities are implemented.
  • Additionally, export restrictions give the federal government leverage over emissions beyond U.S. borders, and should be paired with an expanded commitment to international climate finance and policies to facilitate the transfer of U.S.- developed clean energy technology to other nations.

The next president and Congress should reinstate the crude export ban in tandem with policies to ensure a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels. A reimplementation of the ban would therefore require an ambitious and well-funded energy policy to prioritize justice and equity for workers and frontline and Indigenous communities in the necessary transition away from fossil fuels – to ensure that no one is left behind.

Click here to download the full briefing.

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