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House defense bill includes local items on offshore wind, public lands, dive boat safety 

A number of Central Coast initiatives are included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—Congress' annual defense spending bill—which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 21.

The "riders" on the bill, if agreed to by the Senate, would give Congress more oversight of negotiations with the Navy about the development of offshore wind farms near Morro Bay; offer environmental protections to public lands like the Carrizo Plain and the Los Padres National Forest; and instate new commercial dive boat safety requirements in light of the 2019 Conception disaster.

click to enlarge SEEKING PROTECTION Federal protections for public lands like the Carrizo Plain (pictured) are among a number of local initiatives included in the House of Representatives' defense bill. - FILE PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • File Photo By Camillia Lanham
  • SEEKING PROTECTION Federal protections for public lands like the Carrizo Plain (pictured) are among a number of local initiatives included in the House of Representatives' defense bill.

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) announced the local items in a July 21 press release about the defense bill.

"I'm pleased to see our Central Coast values are strongly represented in this year's NDAA," Carbajal said.

After months of productive dialogue with the Navy on finding a suitable location to develop offshore wind energy in California, Carbajal said there was a setback earlier this year with new Trump-appointed assistant Navy secretaries.

"There was a small blip," Carbajal said. "The two secretaries, the conversation I had with them was not as productive and constructive as I had hoped. ... We had been working in a very constructive path to identify how to maintain the ability for [military] testing and readiness ... and at the same time, do what we've been able to do on the Atlantic coast, and that's have opportunities to develop wind energy projects."

The defense bill would require the Navy and Department of Defense to update and collaborate with Congress on the initiative.

"My amendment ensures that the Navy does not prematurely block development of offshore wind energy projects off our coast without first coming to Congress to provide an update on their work and proposing alternative sites," he said.

Another rider on the bill would enact the Protecting America's Wilderness Act, which extends federal environmental protections to 1.3 million acres of wilderness, including habitats and waterways in the Carrizo Plain and Los Padres National Forest. It protects those lands from future oil and gas development, Carbajal said, and would also connect the Los Padres Forest with the proposed 400-mile Condor Trail.

New commercial dive boats safety requirements also made the bill. If passed, small dive boats—like the Conception, which caught fire outside the Channel Island in 2019 and killed 34 people—would be required to have at least two escape exits, have enhanced safety standards for storing electronic devices like phones and cameras, and have interconnected fire alarm systems.

Because most of Carbajal's proposals received bipartisan support, he's hopeful they'll pass the Senate.

"I got bipartisan support, which is a big deal," he said. "That in itself lends itself to a higher probability [of Senate support]." Δ

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