Two bills aimed at protecting California’s coast from offshore oil drilling cleared a hurdle in Sacramento on Thursday, delighting environmental activists and a North Coast lawmaker as they girded for an upcoming battle with the powerful oil industry.
The bills, intended to thwart the Trump administration’s plan to sell oil-drilling rights off all the nation’s coasts, including Northern California, were released by Senate and Assembly appropriations committees and cleared for enactment into law by the end of the month.
“It’s a great day,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who co-authored the Senate bill, SB 834, that prohibits development of oil facilities, such as pipelines, platforms or piers, in the 3-mile area off the coast controlled by the state.
“This is the most important step that California can take to protect our coast and our economy.”
A nearly identical Assembly bill, AB 1775, was cleared by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The federal government controls drilling beyond the 3-mile limit, and the idea behind the bills is to isolate those waters from the facilities needed to bring undersea oil ashore.
Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a 40-year veteran of the anti-oil campaign, said the bills would provide the first protection for the coast since 2009, when Congress allowed a 27-year-old drilling moratorium to expire.
If the measures are enacted into law, “it’s as if California has removed the welcome mat from its entire coast,” he said.
But at the same time, McGuire, Charter and other oil-drilling foes said they’re bracing for a fight to get the bills approved by both houses, which voted overwhelmingly in May for the measures. By a quirk of legislative procedure, the Assembly and Senate must each adopt the other house’s bill.
“We know that big oil will be putting up a significant fight,” McGuire said. “We’re up to the fight and we think we’re going to win.”
The Western States Petroleum Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The group, a trade association that represents the oil industry in five western states, spent $3.7 million on lobbying in California in the first six months of this year, according to state records.
The Senate bill to ban oil facilities in state waters stalled last year in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and Thursday’s action was critical because it would have died again if not released by the committee.
If the prohibition makes it into law this year, Charter said it would “spell the end” of the Trump administration’s move to maximize offshore oil and gas development in California.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s draft leasing plan, announced in January, would sell drilling rights to the highest bidder in more than 90 percent of offshore waters, including six leases along the California coast.
Charter, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation, said he expects the updated five-year leasing plan will be announced after the November elections, given the widespread protests it has prompted from coastal states.
Rachel Binah of Little River in Mendocino County, an anti-drilling activist since the early 1980s, called Thursday’s action “a real milestone in our fight.”
If the bills pass, she said, “It really will make a difference to our cause of protecting the ocean. This is thrilling.”