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Political Analysis: Gulf Coast Oil Spill Halts Calif. Coast Drilling

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GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had second thoughts about expanding oil drilling off the California coast. His change of heart was a reaction to the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With me to analyze the impact of this change is Tony Perry, San Diego bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Welcome back, Tony. TONY PERRY (Los Angeles Times): Thank you. PENNER: First of all, let’s clarify whether – if there had been expansion of oil drilling off the California coast – whether it would have any kind of an impact on San Diego and the San Diego coastline. PERRY: Sure it could. We live on the coast and there was talk of even the federal areas that could be opened up further out. We wouldn’t see them, but they would slant drill into our waters. Our bigger risk however, are those tankers that go by everyday, maybe 50 miles out in the coastguard says it has a plan, if one of them springs a leak. So we’re not immune to this thing, we’re not totally on the firing line, we’re not Santa Barbara, but we’re not immune. PENNER: But at least there is a plan. Why did the governor want oil exploration expanded in the first place? PERRY: Well because the state is running up a $20 billion deficit, red ink. He was hoping black oil would trump red ink. He’s flipped his position, he’s now back to his original position which is no. We’re seeing that all over the political landscape, people who are against off shore oil drilling before the big explosion in the Gulf of Mexico are really against it now. People who were edging towards it, sort of on the fence, they’re moving away from it now. We’re going to have to wait and see how bad things get in the Gulf, this deep water horizon. How horrific it is. So far its bad, real bad, but it hasn’t hit the absolutely unimaginably horrific level yet. PENNER: I want to go back to the time when oil exploration was actively being considered in California. How strong was the political will to drill into the waters before the spill? PERRY: I think there was a movement towards it but it had a long way to go. It wasn’t just a matter of yes, it had to get through the State Legislator and of course this is California, gentlemen start your attorneys. It was still a long way away. I think its much further away post-Gulf of Mexico disaster. PENNER: So gentlemen start your attorneys… You’re talking about bringing in the lawyers into the mix, but what about the California politicians? PERRY: Oh, first the politicians then the lawyers that’s the California way. PENNER: That’s what I thought. So how are they lining up on either side of the issue? PERRY: Well again, people who were against it are really against it and people who had been edging towards it are edging away from it. I don’t think, uh, particularly if the Gulf situation gets much worse that we’re in for drilling off of our coast anytime soon, in terms of the state decisions. Now the federal decisions might be different. But even there the department of interior secretary Ken Salazar has moved to freeze all new applications. The president of the United States still says he supports off shore oil drilling with the right safety precautions. He’s got a big decision coming up later this month. So, a lot depends on how close that oil gets to the property between Louisiana and Florida. How bad it gets, how many dirty birds we see on the evening news. PENNER: But people have short memories or long memories. I mean 1969 the Santa Barbara oil spill. People thought never again, no one would ever consider drilling off the California coast, and look what happened. PERRY: Sure we tend to be disaster orientated and we forget that with all energy, be it nuke -- Three Mile Island -- or be it drilling, there’s a danger. Or be it overhead transmission lines, there’s a fire danger. There is a risk that we have to manage. When’s it too much risk for the benefit that’s the big questions. Also, who takes the risk? If you live in, what El Cajon, the issue is probably the crackling wires over your head, less so oil slopping on the beach that you don’t have. PENNER: You brought up the idea of the attorneys, I’m just wondering about Houston based PXP that was the company that was going to do the drilling into state waters off Santa Barbara and now that tide is turning against them could there be litigation? PERRY: There could always be litigation. Litigation is one of those eternally active situations. Would it work, I don’t know. I don’t think we had yet gotten to the point of an agreement with those folks. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t run to court and claim some sort of promise broken. PENNER: So has the debate come down to environmental concerns versus fiscal reality? PERRY: It never really got away from that. It’s there now, with a vengeance. We still have a state swimming in red ink. We still have all that coastline. We still have the geologists who say there’s oil out there. Gentlemen, we’re gonna see. PENNER: Thank you very much, Tony Perry.

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