SAUSALITO — Lynda Hopkins, a Sonoma County supervisor and mother of two young daughters, said she has two red lines: “Don’t mess with my kids and don’t mess with my ocean.”
Hopkins, who said she seeks solace and comfort from her busy life by visiting the scenic Sonoma Coast, was one of nine panelists who testified Tuesday at a congressional district hearing on the Trump administration’s plan to include California in the most expansive sale of offshore oil and gas development rights in U.S. history.
About 200 people packed the lobby of the Bay Model Visitor Center for a hearing conducted by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, that produced a unbroken chorus of condemnation for the plan announced by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in January.
State and local officials have also been united in opposition to the plan that includes 47 potential leases in every ocean that touches the United States, with six along the California coast.
Zinke was invited to attend the hearing but he did not show up or respond to the invitation, officials said.
For Sonoma County, the proposed drilling plan represents “a very real economic threat” to what Hopkins called the coast’s “regenerative economy” based on tourism and rather than resource extraction.
The oil industry, she added, is “a dying relic of the past.”
Also testifying were a UC Davis oceanographer, a Stanford University legal expert, a commercial fisherman from Eureka, a Sonoma County tourism promoter, a veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and Richard Charter, an offshore oil drilling opponent since the 1970s.
“We’ve saved this coast before,” said Charter, senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation
Among the dozen audience members who spoke was Seth Weinfield, 13, of San Mateo, a member of Heirs to Our Oceans, an environmental youth group founded in 2016.
Huffman, whose district covers the entire North Coast, said he was “glad to know there’s a new generation coming along” to protect the world’s oceans.
Tuesday’s hearing was called in response to an Interior Department public meeting in Sacramento last month that did not give people a chance to address agency officials, but prompted a boisterous anti-oil rally by about 700 people on the Capitol steps.
Thompson said was he “100 percent against any drilling off our coast,” noting that if there was an oil spill “it would never be cleaned up.”
Huffman said the Trump administration is “pushing a fossil fuel agenda more aggressive than anything we’ve seen.” On encountering Zinke in the House barbershop, Huffman said he told the Interior secretary that California’s defense will be “just as aggressive as he is.”
Speier suggested a political motive behind the wide-open drilling plan, saying “there is never a day in the White House that the president of this country doesn’t want to stick it to California.”
Another panelist, Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose, said her community attracted 4.1 million visitors last year, contributing millions of dollars in tax revenues.
“If we lose our tourist industry our town goes under,” she said.
John Largier, an oceanography professor at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, said oil wells would jeopardize the biologically rich and often rough waters off the North Coast.