Mike McGuire's bill on offshore oil drilling stalls in California Assembly
State Sen. Mike McGuire said Friday he will try again next year to pass an offshore oil drilling prohibition that failed twice in Sacramento in the face of pressure from oil industry lobbyists.
“Big Oil may have the money, but ultimately the people of California will win the fight to protect our coast,” said McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat whose North Coast district covers ?40 percent of the state’s 840-mile coast.
As evidence that public sentiment is on his side, McGuire cited a Public Policy Institute of California poll in July that found 56 percent of residents oppose offshore oil drilling, the same percentage that opposes fracking.
McGuire’s bill, titled the California Coastal Protection Act of 2015, would have repealed an arcane loophole in state law that could allow new offshore oil and gas development in state waters, which extend out three miles from shore.
The bill, approved by the Senate on a 23-14 vote in June, died Thursday in an Assembly committee without a vote.
The Western States Petroleum Association, which has plowed $50 million into lobbying state lawmakers and regulators in the last decade, publicly opposed it, and oil industry opposition was cited in the Assembly’s rejection of a similar measure last year.
McGuire’s bill had been funneled to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which handles all legislation that impacts state finances. Following established procedure, the committee chairman, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, read a list of 114 bills that would be sent to the Assembly floor, and McGuire’s measure was among the 36 bills that officially died because they were not on Gomez’s list.
There was no testimony or debate at the committee meeting, said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, a committee member and one of the bill’s co-authors.
“It’s as simple as that,” Wood said, noting that he had recently asked Gomez to send the bill to a floor vote.
“I’m very disappointed it didn’t go,” said Wood, who, like McGuire, is a freshman legislator.
The appropriations committee’s decision is “not about policy,” Wood said, but simply about “the fiscal impacts to the state of California.”
McGuire’s bill, despite the broad reach implied by its title, would actually have prohibited energy development in state waters in only one area, the Tranquillon Ridge oil and gas field off the Santa Barbara County coast.
The area could produce ?40 million to 90 million barrels of oil, the State Lands Commission said in 2009, but it rejected a proposal to tap the ridge because “it was not in the best interest of the state,” according to an appropriations committee analysis of McGuire’s bill.
Based on Tranquillon Ridge’s potential, however, the analysis said that California could forgo offshore oil revenues ranging from $48 million to $173 million a year for 30 to 35 years by adopting McGuire’s bill. Given the lands commission’s policies, the analysis added, “it is uncertain how many, if any leases would be offered (by the state).”
Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, said it was “fairly unlikely” that Tranquillon Ridge would ever be opened to oil wells. It’s located about 20 miles from the site of the Refugio oil spill, which spewed up to 143,000 gallons of crude oil from a ruptured onshore pipeline in May.
The spill showed “there’s really no safe way” to drill for oil on the coast, contradicting oil industry testimony in connection with McGuire’s bill, Krop said.
State waters along the entire coast, except for Tranquillon Ridge, were protected from new oil development under the California Coastal Sanctuary Act of 1994. That law, however, allowed the state to consider leases under situations in which an oil well in federal waters could drain oil from lands below state waters, and McGuire’s bill aimed to eliminate that option.
The prospect of tapping Tranquillon Ridge is “a big hole” in the protection of California’s coast, he said.
Well over half of the coast beyond the three-mile limit has been open to energy development since moratoriums on drilling in federal waters lapsed in 2008. Oil and gas drilling is permanently banned in two marine sanctuaries that stretch 350 miles from San Luis Obispo County to Mendocino County.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said oil industry opposition doomed her bill to foreclose Tranquillon Ridge drilling last year. It sailed through three Assembly committees before losing, 36 to 30, on the Assembly floor with several Democrats opposed.
Jackson was a co-author of McGuire’s bill, which was also backed by 10 other legislators and a broad coalition of environmental and fishermen’s organizations, as well as businesses, lodging and restaurant association and tribal groups.
The Western States Petroleum Association led the campaign against the bill, asserting in a ?letter to Gomez dated July 13 ?that it would “result in (the) ?loss of valuable state resources,” referring to the potential lease revenues from Tranquillon Ridge.
The letter also said that any new state oil or gas leases would be subject to a “robust regulatory process” by multiple government agencies, including a “detailed environmental review” as well as public review and comment.
The California Chamber of Commerce and California Manufacturers & Technology Association were among the four other organizations that signed the petroleum association’s letter.
Countering the oil group’s argument, Krop said that California receives a share of the royalties from oil leases in federal waters that drain state oil reserves.
The Western States Petroleum Association poured nearly ?$8.9 million into lobbying California government in 2014, almost doubling the $4.7 million it spent the previous year, The Sacramento Bee reported. Over the past 10 years the association has spent $50 million on lobbying, the newspaper said.
In the first half of 2015, the association, identified as “the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group” in Sacramento, spent an additional $2.5 million, the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center said Thursday.
McGuire said he would resubmit his bill in January. His grandmother taught him that “you never take no for an answer,” McGuire said.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.