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California congressman pushes to phase out offshore oil drilling after SoCal spill

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan includes language which would permanently ban new offshore drilling permits in Southern California.

ENCINITAS, Calif. (CN) — Months before an oil spill off the coast of Orange County dumped 127,000 gallons of oil in the Pacific Ocean, Rep. Mike Levin called for prohibiting new offshore drilling leases along the Southern California coast.

“When I introduced the bill earlier this year, I said it was time to put our coastal economy and our environment first, not the fossil fuel companies who profit while polluting our coastline. We are seeing, perhaps clearer than ever, when we put the fossil fuel industry ahead of our planet incidents like this happen,” Levin said at a press conference Tuesday atop a bluff at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, California.

Levin, who represents the 49th District which covers northern San Diego County and southern Orange counties, said Tuesday he toured the damage caused by a massive oil spill in Huntington Beach over the weekend. The spill has fouled all Orange County beaches and as of Tuesday was moving south toward San Diego.

While the spill was first reported Saturday by Amplify Energy Corp., the operator of the oil line, state authorities first received a report of an “unknown sheen” atop the ocean the night before.

The U.S. Coast Guard could not investigate the report for more than 12 hours because it was hindered by darkness and a lack of technology, an official told The Associated Press Tuesday.

Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said Tuesday divers determined about 4,000 feet of the pipeline — which was split open — was “laterally displaced” by about 105 feet.

She did not say what caused the pipe to move. But officials said Monday that they were considering whether a ship’s anchor may have caught the pipe and dragged it along the ocean floor.

From Bolsa Chica State Beach in Orange County Tuesday afternoon, California Governor Gavin Newsom was joined by state and local officials including Levin and Rep. Katie Porter.

Newsom said the last major oil spill in California in 2015 at Refugio State Beach near Santa Barbara took three and a half months to clean up.

“Across the spectrum this is a moment to remind all of us this does not have to be part of our future,” Newsom said, noting 300 people are working to clean up the Huntington Beach spill and 1,500 people are standing by to help.  

He added: “We need to grow up and grow out of this dependency and mindset that we can’t do better.”

In May, Levin introduced the American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act to prohibit new offshore drilling leases of the Southern California coast from San Diego to San Luis Obispo County.

Under congressional and presidential moratoriums, no new offshore drilling leases have been executed in California waters since a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara spewed an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil in the Pacific Ocean. But new drilling has been approved in federal waters off the Golden State coastline.

Levin said Tuesday the Huntington Beach oil spill devastated Southern California beaches and will also negatively affect the region’s coastal tourism economy.

In San Diego and Orange counties, the ocean economy accounts for $7.7 billion in economic activity and generates more than 140,000 jobs in coastal tourism and recreation.

Statewide fishing, tourism and recreation along California’s coast makes up $42.3 billion in economic activity and provides 600,000 jobs.  

“For every oil spill we’re not only adding to the pollution of our oceans but jeopardizing thousands of jobs,” Levin, a Democrat, said.

Language to ban new offshore drilling is included in President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion, 2,465-page Build Back Better Plan currently being negotiated in Congress.

There are also two congressional bills — The Offshore Pipeline Safety Act and Offshore Accountability Act — to create stricter safety and reporting mechanisms for offshore drilling.

The Offshore Pipeline Safety Act was introduced following an April report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed the federal government lacks a robust oversight process for ensuring the integrity of offshore oil pipelines.

Levin said pipelines off the coast of California had better-followed inspection guidelines and regulations compared to other coastal regions with oil pipelines, as identified in the GAO report.

“We were following the rules better here than a lot of the rest of the country and this still happened up the coast from here,” Levin said.

He added: “The only foolproof way we will prevent oil spills like this from happening is if we ban all offshore drilling, period.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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