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More oil drilling is a dangerous step backward for the Central Coast

Salud Carbajal Feb 1, 2018 4:00 AM

The Central Coast, stretching from Ventura to Santa Cruz, attracts locals and visitors from far and wide to our special corner of the world. Known for its beaches, boardwalks, outdoor recreation, and unparalleled wine tasting, the Central Coast relies heavily on a constant flow of tourism and many of its commercial fisheries to support our local economy.

The president and his secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, recently put our coastline at risk with their decision to open our coastline to further offshore oil and gas leasing.

Central Coast residents know too well the environmental and economic challenges that these large oil platforms and pipelines onto our beaches can cause. Visitors may very likely pack their bags and head inland when another spill like the one we recently experienced on the Gaviota Coast brings tar-covered beaches and oil-slicked birds.

More than 26 million people on the Central Coast rely on a healthy ocean to support our economy. For these communities, former President Barack Obama's decision to exempt the coast of California from new offshore oil and gas leases followed a long precedent dating back to the Reagan administration. However, the excitement surrounding the continuation of this policy was short lived as President Donald Trump recently announced plans to open our coastline to new oil and gas development.

Currently, new offshore drilling leases are prohibited along 94 percent of the continental shelf. If what President Trump has proposed is brought into effect, 90 percent of what is currently protected will be re-opened and available to new drilling. That would affect communities spanning from the Atlantic Ocean in Maine to the Pacific waters of California.

Florida, which was initially included in the proposal, is currently the only state to be pardoned from the president's plan. The announcement that drilling would not be permitted off the Florida coast came after the administration received public pressure from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Following the decision, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted, "President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that takes into consideration the local and state voice. I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver."

Well, Mr. Secretary, Californians feel just as passionately that more oil drilling off our coast would hurt our economy and tourism.

Zinke has confirmed that Florida's economy would be impacted if offshore drilling were to resume. Using that logic as well as the strong opposition of our state's governor, California's coast should be pardoned as well.

Like Florida, California's economy relies heavily on our marine resources that help sustain commercial fisheries and local tourism. In 2012, the tourism industry generated $8.7 billion in wages, and that number has undoubtedly increased over the past five years.

As the largest state economy in the United States, and the fifth largest in the world, a hit to California's economy would substantially impact the national economy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimates that California's coastal regions alone generate $1.9 trillion a year and, in addition to attracting thousands of visitors a month, creates demand for inland manufacturers.

Economic interests aside, resuming offshore drilling would be a tremendous step back for environmental protections. The Central Coast is known for its marine life and is home to the Channel Islands, which are known for their ecological diversity and groundbreaking research opportunities. These are areas that need to be protected and preserved for the future.

California's leaders, from the local level all the way to Gov. Jerry Brown, have been outspoken in their opposition to this administration's action. My first piece of legislation introduced in Congress, the California Clean Coast Act, would permanently restrict future oil and gas drilling off our state's coast. Since this decision, I have again reiterated my strong position against California's inclusion in this order and urged Secretary Zinke to reconsider. Secretary Zinke is a homeowner in Santa Barbara has even commented on our community's strong opposition to further drilling, in the past.

The Central Coast is no stranger to the dangers of offshore drilling, and that is largely why our community is so engaged on this important issue. In May of 2015, more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled off the coast of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. The spill, which stretched over 9 miles and cost more than $96 million to clean up, reminded residents how vulnerable their community is to the effects of offshore drilling.

The 2015 Refugio spill, although devastating, was not the worst our community has experienced. In 1969, nearly 3 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the ocean off Santa Barbara's coast. At the time, the spill was the largest in history, and its effects spurred a national movement of environmental activism and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. History proves to us that spills are an inevitable part of offshore drilling, and if leasing resumes off the California coast, it will only be a matter of time before another occurs.

Secretary Zinke, the president instructed you to rebuild the offshore oil and gas program while taking into consideration local and state voices. The Central Coast has spoken—take California off the table.

Readers can comment on the oil plan at regulations.gov until 8:59 p.m. March 9, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will host a meeting at 3 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I St., Sacramento. You can find other meetings nationally at boem.gov. Δ

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal proudly represents the 24th Congressional District of California. The district includes the entirety of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and a portion of Ventura County. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or respond with a letter to editor for publication emailed to letters@newtimesslo.com.