California Officials, Protesters Fight Offshore Drill Plans
California commissions that oversee coastal lands and water pushed the Trump administration to leave the state out of plans to expand offshore drilling, warning the state would block the construction of pipelines to get oil back to land.
The agencies weighed in ahead of a public meeting Thursday in Sacramento, the only opportunity for people to register their opinions to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in person in California.
Fishermen, environmentalists and other critics planned to protest outside the state Capitol before marching to the meeting at a nearby library.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to open nearly all U.S. coastlines to offshore oil and gas drilling. The ocean energy bureau has proposed six sales of drilling rights off the California coast and a seventh off Oregon and Washington between 2020 and 2023.
California's State Lands Commission said in a letter Wednesday the state will resist the plan.
"Given how unpopular oil development in coastal waters is in California, it is certain that the state would not approve new pipelines or allow use of existing pipelines to transport oil from new leases onshore," wrote the three commission members — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Controller Better Yee and Director of Finance Michael Cohen.
The commission oversees the first 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) offshore, at which point federal jurisdiction kicks in. It has not allowed drilling in the state-controlled waters since a 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara.
A letter from the California Coastal Commission warned an oil spill would devastate the state's tourism economy and natural coastal beauty. They pointed to the Santa Barbara spill, which caused severe environmental damage, hurt local fishermen and dissuaded tourists from visiting.
The California Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday to oppose renewed drilling.
"We are California and we will fight back to protect our beautiful coast," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi of Torrance.
Republicans Randy Voepel of Santee and Travis Allen of Huntington Beach said California can safely harvest oil and gas. Allen, a GOP candidate for governor, said that could help lower gasoline prices.
"There is no reason California should be importing approximately two-thirds of our energy needs every single year when we have plenty in the ground right below us," Allen said.
Most of California's outer continental shelf — the area that would be opened to drilling — is in shallow water, where operations are not complicated, said Tim Charters, senior director of government and political affairs for the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group for offshore energy industry.
California imports 55 percent of its oil from foreign countries, he said.
"It's critical to keep the dollars at home, create the jobs locally instead of sending the money overseas and creating jobs in foreign places," Charters said.
On Tuesday, more than 100 demonstrators gathered outside Oregon's state Capitol in Salem to denounce the proposal before planning to go to a public meeting. A day later in New Jersey, more than a dozen groups held a rally in the driving rain on the Asbury Park boardwalk to demonstrate their opposition.
Twenty-three meetings are planned nationwide, one in every state except Hawaii that touches the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Comments can also be submitted online through March 9.
Democratic attorneys general from a dozen coastal states, including California's Xavier Becerra, wrote a letter last week urging Zinke to cancel plans for expanded drilling.