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Biden pauses new offshore oil leases, shielding California coast from more drilling rigs

President Joe Biden’s order Wednesday pausing new offshore oil leases will temporarily shield California coastal waters from the prospect of expanded oil development under a Trump administration plan unveiled two years ago.

“It’s a day people on the coast will never forget,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, an anti-drilling advocate since the 1970s. “It’s a day for popping corks.”

Charter, a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation, called the presidential order — included in a package of measures addressing climate change — “the biggest step in half a century toward protecting coastal resources.”

The order stipulates that new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters must await comprehensive review by multiple federal agencies, including “potential climate and other impacts.”

“This is a return of sanity and science in the interest of a sustainable environment and a healthy economy,” Charter said, acknowledging that the move had been expected since the Biden administration took office.

“Nothing bad can happen as we take the next step toward permanent protection,” he said.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, an environmental attorney by trade who represents the North Coast, announced Wednesday he is reintroducing a pair of measures that would permanently protect the West Coast and the Arctic Ocean from new oil and gas leasing.

“Offshore drilling poses unacceptable risks, and the science and public opinion are clear,” he said in a news release. “We should not put our oceans and fisheries, coastal communities, economies and planet at risk just to enrich the fossil fuel industry.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein on Wednesday introduced a companion measure to Huffman’s West Coast Ocean Protection Act in the Senate, saying in a news release “California understands all too well the danger offshore drilling poses to our oceans and coastal economies.”

Feinstein said she support’s Biden’s executive order, adding that the proposed legislation would assure “future administrations can’t overturn it.”

Charter said the legislation is “absolutely wonderful news.”

Ending new offshore oil and gas leasing could prevent more than 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions and more than $720 billion in damages to people, property and the environment, according to report this week by Oceana, an international conservation advocacy organization

Every East and West Coast governor has expressed “opposition and concern” over offshore oil drilling, the group said.

Charter said he hopes the congressional legislation ultimately comes from all of the concerned states.

In January 2018, the Trump administration unveiled an oil development plan that initially covered more than 90% of coastal waters, including six leasing areas offshore of California with two each in Southern, Central and Northern California.

Federal marine sanctuaries protect the California coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena, but there are four potential drilling targets farther north in Mendocino County and a significant oil spill in the area would likely foul the Sonoma Coast.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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