Environmental Defense decries administration action on California offshore drilling

provided by Environmental Defense

nvironmental Defense criticized the Bush administration this month for announcing that it will not buy back unused drilling leases off the coast of California. Oral arguments will be heard today in a legal challenge being brought by the State of California over 36 active-but-undeveloped offshore drilling leases.

    A letter sent in early June from Interior Secretary Gale Norton to California Governor Gray Davis indicated the administration will not move to buy back active-but-undeveloped offshore drilling leases on the California coast near Pt. Conception.

    “The administration has publicly argued that it would carefully respect the wishes of coastal governors when making decisions about offshore drilling. Unfortunately, the actual decisions on offshore drilling do not reflect those public statements,” said Environmental Defense marine advocate Richard Charter.

    The Interior Department letter, which follows the recent announcement by the administration of a buy-back of Florida offshore drilling tracts, cites Secretary Norton's claim that “Florida opposes coastal drilling and California does not” as a reason for not granting similar protections to the California coastline. In fact, California Governor Gray Davis and members of California's Congressional delegation in the US House have requested the cancellation of the remaining offshore leases, and California has long opposed offshore drilling (see sidebar below). Governor Davis, the California Coastal Commission, the state attorney general and numerous conservation groups are suing the Department of Interior to prevent drilling on these undeveloped offshore leases. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon also opposes more offshore drilling on the state's coastline, and has said that he supports a buy-back of the undeveloped coastal leases in question.

    “An important job of any Secretary of the Interior is to come up with a way to achieve constructive resolution for disagreements that often arise between the White House and states facing unwanted adverse impacts resulting from federal decisions,” said Charter. “This administration, having declined to amicably resolve the California drilling stalemate in the same manner recently so well-received in Florida, has now left it to the courts to determine the fate of the California coastline.”

Chronology of California's Opposition to Offshore Drilling:

1935: Redondo Beach voters ban drilling – By a vote of the people in 1935, Redondo Beach enacts a ban precluding offshore drilling and onshore drilling which held for twenty years.

1969: Santa Barbara blowout – Union Oil's Platform “A” accident in federal waters resulted in an uncontrolled loss of well control, or blowout, which for weeks coated more than 150 miles of California's most pristine and popular beaches with a 660-square-mile mat of thick, black tar, mixed with dead birds and dying marine life, launching the modern-day environmental movement and helping to inspire the first Earth Day. Official estimates of the volume of the spill ran as high as 780,000 barrels, with Coast Guard estimates of the size of the spill set at 100,000 barrels.

1969: Hickel Preserve established – Interior Secretary Walter Hickel, in response to outcry in Santa Barbara after the blowout and spill, uses his secretarial authority to add a 34,000-acre buffer zone to the 21,000-acre federal ecological preserve that the Johnson administration had established in 1968. These zones are seaward of the state sanctuary that runs thirteen miles from Summerland to Coal Oil Point along the Santa Barbara coastline.

1981: First congressional moratorium – California Congressional Delegation, working with Congressmembers from other states, creates first-ever bipartisan legislative “moratorium” to protect Northern California offshore drilling tracts as part of the fiscal year 1982 Interior Appropriations Bill, effectively cutting off the funding to the Department of Interior for leasing activities. The Congressional moratorium, since renewed annually, is currently in its twentieth consecutive year, and presently protects all unleased offshore drilling tracts on the entire US West Coast, the East Coast, parts of the Gulf Coast of Florida, and Bristol Bay in Alaska.

1986-1990: Local communities enact onshore facilities ordinances – Twenty-four city and county governments enact, by a vote of the people or by a vote of the city council or county commissioners, local land use ordinances which either ban outright, or submit to a vote of the public, any proposed onshore support facilities for offshore oil drilling. In seventeen communities, these measures were enacted by popular votes which prevailed by margins ranging from 53 percent to 85 percent, with the average margin for adoption being 72 percent.

1991: Former President Bush drilling deferrals – After more than a year of public hearings, former President Bush, by Executive Action, defers any new offshore drilling leases along the California coast until after the year 2002, citing the lack of adequate scientific data needed to ensure that the environment can be protected from adverse impacts of drilling.

1994: California Legislature bans new oil leasing in state waters – The California State Legislature passes, and Republican Governor Pete Wilson signs into law, a permanent ban on new offshore oil leasing in state waters.

1998: President Clinton's offshore drilling deferrals – Former President Clinton, also by Executive Action, extends the previous Bush Deferrals for California and other sensitive coastal areas until the year 2012.

1999: Governor Davis acts to stop drilling on active-but-undeveloped leases on the Central California coast – Governor Gray Davis directed the State Resources Agency and the California Coastal Commission to identify all legal and administrative actions available to the state to protect California's coastline from new drilling. Governor Davis, the California Coastal Commission, the State Attorney General, and numerous conservation groups are currently suing the Department of Interior to prevent drilling on these undeveloped offshore leases.

2002: California congressional letter to the president – 32 Members of the California Congressional Delegation in the House have written a bipartisan June 6, 2002, letter to President Bush asking for cancellation of the remaining 36 undeveloped offshore leases on the California coast near Pt. Conception. A separate letter from Senator Barbara Boxer makes a similar request.

2002: Governor Davis reiterates his request for cancellation of Pt. Conception leases – On June 7, 2002, Governor Gray Davis reiterates his request that the administration cancel the remaining undeveloped federal leases on the Central California coastline.

2002: Gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon requests cancellation of California leases – On June 8, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon says that he opposes new offshore drilling along the California coast and asks the administration to cancel the remaining active federal leases.

    Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization based in New York, represents more than 300,000 members. Since 1967 they have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent environmental problems. www.environmentaldefense.org.