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Woolsey takes new approach to restrict coastal drilling

With her time in Congress running short, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, is pursuing a new approach to protecting more of the North Coast from oil drilling -- one that doesn't require a vote in the Republican-controlled House.

Woolsey and California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer have asked President Barack Obama to establish a marine monument covering about 2,800 square miles off the Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin coasts, a step Obama could take, like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, with the stroke of a pen.

"It's time for a Hail Mary pass," said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran anti-drilling advocate.

Woolsey, who retires from Congress in January, has tried since 2004 to protect the same coastal waters from energy development by including them in two marine sanctuaries which run from the Golden Gate Bridge to Bodega Head.

But she and Charter say the legislative route will likely remain blocked by oil-friendly Republicans.

The House "is run by people who aren't going to support anything good like this," Woolsey said Monday in a telephone interview.

Appealing to the Obama administration for a marine monument "gets us around this logjam," said Charter, a senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group.

The proposed monument would extend the protected area to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

"I think it's a great idea," said Rep.-elect Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, the incoming North Coast congressman who campaigned this year strongly on his environmental credentials.

In January 2000, President Bill Clinton established the California Coastal National Monument by executive order, protecting all the islets, reefs and rock outcroppings -- including the Farallon Islands -- along the 840-mile California coast.

Republican lawmakers complained that Clinton's action was an end run around Congress, but in 2006 President George Bush, inspired by his wife, Laura, created the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument northwest of Hawaii and the largest protected area in United States waters.

Marine sanctuary officials would manage the proposed North Coast monument, with the authority to prohibit oil drilling and allow fishing to continue, Charter said.

Woolsey said she had received no response from the White House.

"Not yet," she said. "They just won their damn election."

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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