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Environmentalists, officials push back on Trump offshore oil move

Citizens, environmental groups and lawmakers from coast to coast are calling for a barrage of public comments opposing President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider additions to the four marine sanctuaries that protect the California coast from oil drilling.

More than 43,000 comments had been officially recorded at a government website Monday in a nationwide effort to protect 11 national sanctuaries and monuments, including four that surround the Channel Islands and protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

Other sanctuaries and monuments stretch from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes, Hawaii and Samoa.

The comment deadline - barring a last-minute extension - is 8:59 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday.

“This is an all-out fight for the future of the California coast,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, an offshore oil drilling opponent since the 1970s.

His organization, The Ocean Foundation, has formed a “spontaneous coalition” with 40 other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Russian Riverkeeper and Sonoma Coast Surfrider.

California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and senators from Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan, along with Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and House members from Hawaii, Arizona, Michigan, New York and Guam have joined state and county officials in defending the protected “underwater parks” they say drive local economies and preserve natural resources.

They are reacting to Trump’s April 28 executive order implementing a national policy to “encourage energy exploration and production” in offshore waters “to maintain the nation’s position as a global energy leader.”

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

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration subsequently set a 30-day public comment period that ends Wednesday.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, called Trump’s order “an unprecedented and unconscionable action … that goes against the tide of public opinion.”

The four California sanctuaries cover more than 12,300 square miles - about the size of all the coastal counties between Marin and 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.

Charter said Monday his coalition had generated about 67,000 comments and that the government’s lower count was because it counted letters signed by multiple people as a single response.

Sonoma County Conservation Action was making a “huge push” for comments, contacting more than 100 people at their homes and recording more than 14,000 contacts via Facebook, said Kerry Fugett, the group’s executive director.

It helps elected officials make their cases in Washington if “thousands of their constituents speak up,” she said.

“We realize it looks like an uphill battle. We can’t give President Trump a call and ask him to change his mind.”

Huffman said the protest will “put them fully on notice of the blowback that will occur from the people of California” if parts of the coast are reopened to energy development.

But a legal battle could stall the move to shrink marine sanctuaries and monuments for the duration of Trump’s presidency, he said.

“People are mobilized and lawyered up if they go ahead with this,” Huffman said.

The Western States Petroleum Association will not submit a comment to the government, said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the oil trade group.

“I am confident that our industry can produce energy safely no matter the environment, so it is understandable that the possibilities are being reviewed,” she said. “However, I am not aware of any of our members champing at the bit to pursue the opportunity in California.”

To submit an online message, go to http://pd2go.net/HlXv0z.

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

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