Campaign seeks to defend California marine sanctuaries in face of Trump energy order

Top political leaders are joining North Coast counties and environmentalists in supporting marine sanctuaries in the face of President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider additions to all four of the sanctuaries that protect the California coast from oil drilling.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and the Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino county boards of supervisors have officially called for preserving sanctuaries that surround the Channel Islands and protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

“Californians cherish their Pacific coastline and ocean resources,” Feinstein and Harris said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week, extolling the value of the sanctuaries. “These areas are simply irreplaceable.”

The four sanctuaries cover more than 12,300 square miles - about the size of the coastal counties from Marin to Del Norte plus Napa and Lake counties - and protect places such as the Monterey Canyon, Farallon Islands and Cordell Bank, a biologically rich seamount off the Marin coast.

The pro-sanctuary campaign gained focus Friday with an announcement that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will open on Monday a 30-day public comment period on a review of recent additions to the sanctuaries ordered by Trump on April 28.

The executive order, implementing an“America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” declared that it would be national ?policy to “encourage energy exploration and production” in offshore waters “to maintain the nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people.”

Ross was ordered to review all additions to marine sanctuaries since 2007, studying the cost of managing the sanctuaries, the adequacy of state and tribal input in the expansions and the forgone cost of “potential energy and mineral exploration” in federal offshore waters.

That report, in consultation with the defense and interior secretaries, is due to the White House by Oct. 25.

It will cover additions to California’s four marine sanctuaries, along with sanctuaries in Michigan and Samoa and national monuments in the Mariana Islands, Hawaii, Samoa, a group of remote Pacific islands and area off the coast of New England.

The addition of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument in 2014 was not included.

Huffman said he will organize a public event to support maintaining the existing sanctuaries, including an expansion in 2015 that doubled the size of the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank sanctuaries. The new borders extended protections - and federal prohibition against oil drilling - 60 miles north from Bodega Head to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

“Obviously, it’s time for everyone who values our oceans, and especially those who worked tirelessly to secure this sanctuary expansion, to come out in force,” Huffman said in an email. “This is not a drill.”

In their resolution, Sonoma County supervisors said the sanctuary review “would create unnecessary economic uncertainty” and disregard the interests of fishermen, residents, recreational users, researchers and state and local governments” involved in gaining the sanctuary designation.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose district covers the North Coast, has repeatedly cited the $40 billion annual economic value of coastal industries that rely on a healthy ocean.

Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, an offshore oil drilling opponent since the 1970s, said Trump’s order “goes after our most treasured places in the ocean.”

Marine sanctuaries are now the North Coast’s best protection against energy development, he said, and their benefits have “become integrated into the entire regional economy.”

Charter, a senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation, an international environmental nonprofit, said there is “no line between the Trump administration and the oil industry” and that it is “trying to erase anything that President Obama had anything to do with.”

The Western States Petroleum Association did not immediately respond to a question of whether it would submit a comment to NOAA.

Erik Milito, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said in April his organization, an oil and natural gas trade association, had been “advocating for expanded access to domestic energy resources for years.”

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