Opinion

Offshore oil drilling threatens our health and economy. We need a permanent ban

Americans up and down our nation’s beautiful coasts know that offshore drilling is a direct threat to the health of the environment and to the economic vitality of coastal communities.

We’ve been proud to stand with coastal residents in California and across the nation to oppose the administration’s efforts to open federal waters to new offshore oil drilling.

Although the administration has temporarily backed off its offshore drilling plan, Congress still urgently needs to pass legislation to permanently protect our coasts from all forms of offshore drilling.

Fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism are the lifeblood of California’s coastal economies, accounting for billions of dollars of our state’s gross domestic product. Offshore drilling threatens all those industries, creating the potential for permanent damage to some of the most ecologically diverse and sensitive regions of our country.

And for what? If approved, new offshore oil and gas leases would simply extend our dependence on fossil fuels when we need to be transitioning to a clean economy.

Opinion

Californians know all too well the dangers of offshore drilling. In 1969, a blowout caused an offshore rig to begin spilling vast amounts of crude oil off the coast of Santa Barbara. Within days, a 30-square-mile oil slick blanketed the ocean.

When it was finally contained, more than 3 million gallons of oil had spilled into the ocean. At the time, it was the largest oil spill in U.S. history, and it has only been exceeded by the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon spills.

The effect on the environment was devastating. Dolphins washed up dead on the shore, seagulls were soaked with so much oil it was impossible for them to fly and the intense fumes could be smelled for miles.

After that disaster, California made clear it no longer wanted the risks and environmental damage that come with offshore drilling. New offshore drilling was immediately banned in state waters and, since 1984, California has successfully blocked new leases in federal waters.

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2004 101 Becky Hammel


Thanks to that movement, California is now in the vanguard of the effort to fight climate change. The state has committed itself to move beyond fossil fuels and is on track to power the entire state exclusively with renewable energy by 2045.

It’s in this context that the Trump administration announced plans to open federal waters to new drilling leases. The decision was nakedly political, as evidenced by the fact that the administration immediately agreed to remove Florida from consideration after its Republican governor announced opposition to the plan.

The administration has also led rollbacks of crucial safety regulations put in place in the wake of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and devastated the Gulf Coast ecosystem. The administration is also currently trying to open lands in the Arctic to drilling.

These plans are the latest attempt by the Trump administration to remove any oversight of oil drilling in order to make it as profitable an industry as possible. Rushing to approve lucrative new leases to line the pockets of “Big Oil” while simultaneously rolling back safety regulations makes another catastrophic spill more likely.

Opposition to the president’s plan isn’t isolated to California. It’s coming from every coastal state. Nearly every East Coast and West Coast governor opposes this plan, as do a majority of Americans.

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bicoastal and bipartisan opposition

It was just four years ago that a pipeline carrying oil from an offshore oil well ruptured and spilled more than 140,000 gallons of crude oil near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County.

Our beaches will never be safe as long as drilling is a possibility.

That’s why we introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act. This legislation would protect the environment and livelihoods of our coastal communities by permanently banning offshore drilling in federal waters off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. It would also end the uncertainty caused by the Trump administration’s moves to sell more leases. All six West Coast senators support the bill.

The House of Representatives recently included a ban on all federal money for offshore drilling in its annual Interior Department funding bill. The Senate should support this House effort and make the ban permanent.

In the face of the growing threat of climate change, opening more areas to drilling makes no sense. We should focus on cutting emissions and protecting coastal communities from rising sea levels, not extracting more oil so private companies can profit.

California has shown the way forward, and it doesn’t involve expansion and deregulation of offshore drilling.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris represent California in the U.S. Senate. Harris is also a Democratic candidate running for president in the upcoming 2020 election.
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