More than 35 years ago, I worked with my Republican colleagues in both houses of Congress to impose a moratorium on offshore oil drilling in federal waters along the California coast. We understood that drilling posed too grave a threat to the state’s coastline, one of the nation’s greatest natural and commercial assets.
Now that moratorium is at risk. In January, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed opening up nearly the entire outer continental shelf of the United States for oil and gas exploration, including seven potential leases in the Pacific, six of them off California’s coast. He had the temerity to suggest that the leases would provide billions of dollars “to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.”
Californians know better.
We remember the 1969 Santa Barbara oil-rig blowout that unleashed millions of gallons of crude oil, killing seabirds, poisoning seals and dolphins, and coating 35 miles of coastline with up to 6 inches of oil. More recently, a 2015 pipeline leak fouled Refugio State Beach and forced the closure of commercial and recreational fishing for weeks. Cleanup costs topped $90 million.
In 2017 polling, 69% of Californians opposed drilling, and substantial majorities agreed with that position no matter where they lived in the state (inland or beach), or their political party. Many of those voters will be in Sacramento on Thursday to make their views known to Washington at the single public hearing scheduled in the state on Zinke’s proposal.
Opposition to drilling is as much about the economy as it is about the environment: Tourism, fishing and ocean recreation sustain tens of billions of dollars of economic activity and hundreds of thousands of jobs in our state annually. It makes no sense to risk damaging that economic vitality with catastrophic oil spills and pollution, especially with the rise in renewable energy sources.
It defies logic that shortly after proposing new leases, Zinke said he would exempt Florida’s offshore waters from the drilling plan. He agreed with Gov. Rick Scott that Florida’s tourism and beaches should be protected from spills, while ignoring the same consequences in other states. At least 15 coastal governors, one-third of them Republican, have publicly opposed Trump’s offshore oil drilling plan.