Bills aimed at stopping offshore oil drilling go to governor

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Offshore oil drilling foes, including state Sen. Mike McGuire, on Thursday hailed final legislative approval of two bills as California’s best defense against a Trump administration campaign to pull more petroleum from beneath the ocean floor.

The two bills — which prohibit development of oil facilities in the 3-mile area off the coast controlled by the state — are on their way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, with supporters cautiously optimistic he will sign them into law.

“California has drawn a line in the sand,” said McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat. “We will do whatever it takes to protect our coast, our environment and the economy.”

McGuire said the measures are timely as President Donald Trump “has made it known he wants to fast-track six new offshore oil leases” off the California coast.

Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a 40-year veteran of the anti-oil campaign, said the bills represent “the one thing a state can do when faced with a Trump oil plan that has gone off the rails.”

“This may be a turning point for the California coast,” he said.

West county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she was “thrilled that our state legislators are standing up for the coast.”

“It shows that we value a clean, regenerative economy and will take a stand against an extractive, environmentally destructive industry,” said Hopkins, whose district covers the entire Sonoma Coast.

The state has been vulnerable to new oil and gas development since 2009, when Congress allowed a 27-year-old drilling moratorium to expire.

The federal government controls drilling beyond the 3-mile limit, and the idea behind the bills is to isolate those waters from facilities, such as pipelines, platforms or piers, needed to bring undersea oil to shore.

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 in California.

Charter, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation, said he expects the updated five-year leasing plan will be announced after the November elections.

Zinke may go ahead with proposed leases off California, Charter said, but the move would be vulnerable to legal challenge if the governor signs the two bills.

Federal law requires that oil leasing plans must “respect the laws, goals and policies” of the state, Charter said.

And even if Zinke persisted, Charter said oil companies would be wary of bidding for a lease they might not get to use.

A ban on support facilities in state waters “has a deterrent effect on a potential bidder,” he said.

Charter noted that resistance to the leasing plan is widespread, with all three West Coast governors and most on the Atlantic coast seeking exemptions from the plan.

Rachel Binah of Little River in Mendocino County, an anti-drilling activist since the early 1980s, said the two bills represent “a paradigm shift” in sentiment over the value of a clean coast.

In a Public Policy Institute of California survey last year, a record low 25 percent of California adults favored more oil drilling off the coast while a record high 69 percent opposed it.

Still, Binah said she was troubled by a provision in the bills that allows new oil leases if the president, governor and state lawmakers take certain actions in response to a “severe energy supply interruption.”

“It’s not over,” Binah said. “Our fight to protect the coast will go on as long as we live.”

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

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