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Coastal Commission rejects offshore leases 

The California Coastal Commission recently rejected the federal government's plans to allow oil and gas development off the Central Coast.

On Aug. 11 the commission voted unanimously to object to another proposed extension of 36 oil and gas leases located in federal waters off the coast of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. These leases were originally sold between 1968 and 1984 but have never been developed. Extending the leases keeps the door open for future drilling.

Environmental groups, including the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center (EDC), fear that developing those leases could harm marine life, and air and water quality. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) has said there would be no significant environmental impacts.

The 36 leases were previously extended by the MMS in 1999, but the California Coastal Commission wasn't given a chance to review the leases for consistency with the California Coastal Act, as required by federal law.

Through a state lawsuit against the federal government, the courts required the MMS to allow the Coastal Commission to review the leases.

In response to the court's ruling, MMS submitted "Consistency Determinations" to the commission on April 6 asserting that extending the leases would be consistent with the policies of the California Coastal Act.

With the state commission's rebuff, the MMS - which issued a statement saying it was disappointed with the ruling - will determine the best course of action. The state commission has reportedly said it will sue the MMS if it keeps its position on the leases.

In the meantime, a lawsuit from environmental groups challenging the lease extensions is moving forward in federal court, and the oil companies that hold the leases are trying to get the federal government to compensate them.

-A.R.

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