President Joe Biden’s administration approved plans to build the nation’s largest oil export terminal off the Gulf Coast of Texas last month — a move that comes after the project’s developer expanded its federal lobbying operation, an OpenSecrets analysis of Enterprise Products Partners’ lobbying disclosures found.
On Nov. 22, the Maritime Administration, an agency in the Transportation Department responsible for regulating deepwater infrastructure, signed off on Enterprise Products Partners’ proposed Sea Port Oil Terminal. The Texas-based company called the decision a “significant milestone” in the process to obtain a license for the project, which, if constructed, could dramatically increase America’s capacity to export crude oil.
After filing an application to build the terminal in January 2019, Enterprise Products expanded its lobbying operation, spending $810,000 that year — an increase of 26.6% compared to the previous three years. The company also hired the firms VNF Solutions and BGR Government Affairs to lobby the federal government on its behalf.
Enterprise Products spent nearly $3 million lobbying the federal government during the four years its proposal has been under review, OpenSecrets found.
Issues lobbied range from taxation to oil and gas regulations writ-large. But disclosures filed by Enterprise Products and VNF Solutions specifically mention lobbying the Maritime Administration for authorization to “build an export terminal off the coast of Texas.” BGR Government Affairs, which received more than $1 million from Enterprise Products, reported lobbying the Federal Maritime Commission, an independent government agency regulating ocean transportation, on maritime oil and gas issues.
The decision, announced a day after the United Nation’s annual climate summit came to a close, further complicates Biden’s record as a champion for the environment. In August, the president passed legislation committing $370 billion over the next decade to combating climate change, the largest such investment in U.S. history. But his administration, under pressure to lower gas prices, earlier in April reneged on a campaign promise to end oil and gas permitting on public lands.
Critics of the Sea Port Oil Terminal insist allowing the project to proceed prolongs American dependence on fossil fuels and undercuts Biden’s climate agenda. In November, 40 organizations signed onto a letter urging the Biden administration to block the project.
“President Biden cannot lead on combating climate change, protecting public health or advocating for environmental justice while simultaneously allowing fossil fuel companies to lock-in decades of fossil fuel extraction,” Kelsey Crane, a senior policy advocate at the environmental nonprofit Earthworks, said in a statement. “This administration has the power to stop crude oil export projects and limit fossil fuels, an essential missing piece of U.S. climate policy.”
The export terminals are designed for a new generation of supertankers capable of carrying up to 2 million barrels of oil. Most U.S. ports are too shallow to accommodate these massive ships, requiring smaller tankers to transport oil from coastal depots to vessels waiting in deeper waters. Offshore terminals aim to make exports more cost-effective and reduce spills and collision risks by allowing supertankers to fill up directly from stations at sea.
In its final impact assessment, the Maritime Administration projects that oil processed at the Sea Port Oil Terminal would release the greenhouse gas equivalent of 233 million tons of carbon dioxide per year — about 4% of total U.S. emissions reported by the EPA in 2020, Inside Climate News noted.
Enterprise Products did not respond to requests for comment. In a press statement, the company said that the Sea Port Oil Terminal is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 65% compared to the current industry practice. The Maritime Administration noted in its decision that the terminal would “lessen emissions from conventional crude oil loading.”
Enterprise Products isn’t the only oil and gas company to expand its lobbying operations recently. ConocoPhillips spent more than $6.4 million on lobbying in the first nine months of 2022 — an increase of roughly 133.8% compared to the same period last year — as it sought final approval for its long-delayed project to extract oil from Alaska’s federally-administered National Petroleum Reserve.
Industry-wide spending by oil and gas companies jumped 4.6% — from about $87 million in the first three quarters of 2021, to more than $91 million in the first three quarters of 2022.