House votes to protect California coast from offshore drilling

provided by Environmental Defense

nvironmental Defense today praised adoption of an amendment by the US House of Representatives that will preclude the issuance of any permits for the development of 36 active-but-undeveloped offshore drilling leases near Point Conception on the Central California coast.

    The amendment to the 2003 Interior Appropriations package, authored by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Nick Rahall (D-WV) and George Miller (D-CA) and adopted by a 252 to 172 vote margin, prevents the expenditure of appropriated funds by the Interior Department for granting any permits for exploration, delineation, or development drilling on the contested federal lease tracts.

    “The White House must now get creative and find a way to protect the California coast, while also resolving this long-standing problem,” said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. “With all due respect to the sugar-sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle, the coastline of Point Conception lies within the habitat range of the California Sea Otter and right between two National Marine Sanctuaries – all very sensitive areas that would be decimated by an oil spill. This coast is an irreplaceable national treasure and every bit as deserving of protection as Florida's shoreline.”

    Today's congressional action is similar to a 1995 agreement by the federal government to extinguish active-but-undeveloped offshore leases in Alaska's fishery-rich Bristol Bay. Legislative language, identical to the California protections adopted today, also eventually led to the reacquisition of active-but-undeveloped offshore leases near North Carolina's Outer Banks in 2000.

    The Interior Appropriations Bill for 2003, which now contains the anti-offshore drilling provision, also extends for the 21st consecutive year a moratorium on new offshore drilling that protects all unleased offshore tracts along the entire east and west coasts in southern Florida and Alaska's Bristol Bay.

    In addition to today's action, Governor Gray Davis, the California Coastal Commission, the state attorney general and numerous conservation groups (including Environmental Defense) are pursuing legal action against the Department of Interior to block drilling on the undeveloped offshore 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.