California anti-oil drilling bills face critical test in Legislature
The fate of two bills considered the California coast’s best protection against the Trump administration’s new offshore oil-drilling plan is at stake in an obscure legislative process playing out today at the Capitol.
“The stakes could not be higher,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat who co-authored one of the nearly identical bills aimed at thwarting the sale of new oil-drilling rights that could start as soon as next year.
McGuire’s bill and a matching measure from the Assembly must win release from the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees today in order to become law by the end of the month.
The bills would prohibit the State Lands Commission from approving any new leases for oil facilities, such as pipelines, platforms or piers, in the 3-mile area off the coast controlled by the state.
Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran offshore oil-drilling opponent, said the bills “offer the last and best protection” for the state’s coast, which is earmarked for energy development in a Trump administration plan released in January.
“Without this protection, we could literally lose the whole California coast,” he said.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s draft leasing plan - opposed by top state officials and at least 65 cities and counties - would grant drilling rights in more than 90 percent of federal offshore waters, with 47 potential lease sales in every ocean that touches the nation, including six along the California coast.
McGuire called the plan “a complete sellout to President Trump’s buddies in big oil.”
Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, who represents 300 miles of the coast, said he wants it to stay “rugged, majestic and pristine.”
California has been a leader in moving away from fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Wood said in an email. “It’s possible, it’s practical and has created a new and thriving economy,” he said. “There is no reason to go back in time.”
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, whose district also covers the North Coast, sent a letter Wednesday to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon endorsing the Senate bill and noting that Republicans have blocked Huffman’s measure to prohibit oil leases on the Pacific coast: “Until such time as Congress can act or the Trump administration backs down on their disastrous war on California, enactment of SB 834 will ensure that the state of California does all it can to protect our coastal communities.”
Charter, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation, said in June he was confident Gov. Jerry Brown, who had pledged to fight the drilling plan, would sign the bills if they reach his desk.
Oil industry representatives and environmentalists are furiously lobbying state lawmakers and officials over the measures, which won strong approval in both houses in May.
But because the measures have a major financial impact, they were routinely sent to the so-called “suspense file” in the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees, which will both meet today. The bills can be released as written or with amendments, or held in committee, meaning they are dead.
McGuire said his office has received about 2,000 calls in the past two weeks regarding his bill, SB 834, which passed the Senate on a 24-8 vote. The Assembly measure, AB 1775, was approved 45-24.
The Trump administration “is forcing offshore oil drilling down California’s throat,” McGuire said, calling it a major threat to the state’s “clean coast economy.”
Getting at least one of the bills approved is important, Charter said, because federal law requires that oil leasing plans must “consider the laws, goals and policies of affected states.”
Zinke has said he will announce the new five-year leasing plan late this fall, presumably after the November election, Charter said.
The draft plan includes two leases in each of three zones in northern, central and southern California, and Charter said he expects the first lease sales to be scheduled next year.
Marine sanctuaries protect a large swath of the North and Central Coast from oil drilling, but the White House is evaluating a plan that could rescind some of those protections, perhaps reopening parts of the Sonoma and Mendocino coast to energy development. Areas north of Point Arena and south of Cambria on the Central Coast remain unprotected by sanctuaries.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.