House approves measures that would block offshore drilling on all but Arctic coast
The House of Representatives passed three amendments on Thursday imposing one-year bans on offshore oil drilling on the Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico coasts, potentially restoring the safeguard that protected California’s coast for more than a quarter century.
The three bipartisan votes came on amendments to the funding bill for the Department of Interior and other agencies and are protected from a line-item veto by President Donald Trump, who has proposed an aggressive expansion of oil and gas development in the nation’s offshore waters.
It also may not need approval in the Republican-controlled Senate, which will produce its own Interior Department appropriations bill.
“This is the congressional moratorium coming back,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran anti-oil drilling activist. “Today’s been a miracle, big time.”
The House amendments would prevent the Secretary of Interior from spending any money on pre-leasing or leasing activities related to selling offshore drilling rights to energy developers.
Similar House measures protected California’s coast from new oil wells one year at a time for 27 years, ending in 2009 when former President George W. Bush left office. The bans weren’t needed under President Barack Obama.
He “wasn’t out to destroy the whole coast,” said Charter, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation who was involved in the annual efforts to renew the congressional moratorium.
But in January 2018, the Trump administration unveiled an oil development plan that initially covered more than 90 percent of coastal waters, including six leasing areas offshore of California.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in April that a revised plan was suspended indefinitely because of legal setbacks in the courts, and it is unclear when or if the plan will be revived, Charter said.
Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, an ocean conservation advocacy group, said Thursday’s action “underscores the strength and bipartisanship of opposition to dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.”
Opposition to offshore drilling now comes from every East and West Coast governor, some 360 cities on both coasts and more than 2,200 local, state and federal officials, Oceana said in a press release.
Throughout the 27-year moratorium period, Charter said the House approvals were ratified by a House-Senate conference committee behind closed doors while the Senate funding measure was silent on oil drilling.
Charter said he thinks there is a “very good chance” that will happen again this summer.
The 2018 midterm election that put Democrats back in control of the House was a key to Thursday’s vote, he said.
A measure to bar drilling on the Arctic coast failed.
Federal marine sanctuaries protect the California coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena, but there are four potential drilling targets farther north in Mendocino County and a significant spill in that area would likely foul the Sonoma Coast.
The amendment protecting the West Coast was sponsored by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, with Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, among seven co-sponsors, all but one from California.
It passed 238-192, with 11 Republicans joining the majority and seven Democrats opposed. California’s determination to block offshore oil drilling dates back to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.
No new drilling has been allowed in federal waters along the Pacific Coast since 1984.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.