Coastal Commission Strategizes Offshore Drilling Opposition

CAMBRIA, Calif. (CN) – The California Coastal Commission vowed to fight the Trump administration’s offshore drilling program during its Wednesday meeting, outlining its battle plans as the sole California agency that has authority over oil and gas leasing in federal waters.

The coastal commission will use its authority to determine whether federal plans for leasing oil and gas plots in the Outer Continental Shelf conform to state regulations to oppose the Trump’s plan to open up a vast area off the coast of California to oil and gas development.

“Allowing oil and gas development off our coast is a massive step backwards,” said Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth.

Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, announced in early January that it would allow drilling in the nearly 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf situated just off the coast of the United States.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management retains exclusive jurisdiction over the shelf and has announced that it has six different areas off the California coast as candidates for potential exploration — two each in the southern, central and northern planning areas.

The bureau has proposed a lease sale for the southern planning area for as early as 2020, though the exact location has yet to be disclosed, said Alison Dettmer, a deputy director with the coastal commission.

The California Coastal Commission is not the sole California public body to stake out its opposition to President Donald Trump and his administration’s approach to offshore oil development.

The California legislature has proposed a bill that would ban the construction of new pipelines in state waters, complicating the potential delivery of extracted oil and gas.

But the coastal commission said it has another means of opposing the plans.

The Coastal Zone Management Act mandates the federal government consult with affected states when authorizing any type of economic activity in federal managed waters, including the exploration and development of oil and gas.

The feds and the state must both sign off on an agreement that the lease sale is consistent with state regulations in order for the lease sale to proceed.

In California, the coastal commission is the agency responsible for analyzing and consummating any such agreement, Dettmer said.

If disagreements between the state and the feds persist, both parties can seek recourse through the U.S. Commerce Department and ultimately the federal courts.

If lawsuits do emerge from the current impasse, it wouldn’t be the first time, as a previous dispute between the California Coastal Commission and the Department of Interior went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1984.

While California ultimately lost the suit, it led to changes in federal law that gave states greater leverage as it pertains to offshore leasing decisions.

California suffered one the worst oil spills in modern history, when a well blew out on an offshore oil platform just off the coast of Santa Barbara, dumping anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil into the Pacific Ocean.

The spill despoiled a huge swath of California coast, ranging from Goleta to Ventura, and killed scores of wildlife including seabirds and marine mammals.

It still ranks as the third worst oil spill in United States history, ranking behind the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills.

The event led California to undertake a dramatic reconsideration of its offshore drilling programs and is widely considered to be one of the more visible incidents that led to the environmental movement and the formation of federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

The coastal commission cited the episode in its letter to the Trump administration, which was highly critical of its recent decisions.

“We were outraged to learn that BOEM had recklessly threatened the health of California’s coastal environment and the future of its multi-trillion dollar economy by proposing to expand drilling off the coast,” said chair of the coastal commission Dayna Bochco. “California depends on the international draw of its iconic beaches and ocean waters and it is the Coastal Commission’s mandate to protect this fragile and precious natural resource.”

The letter is indicative of nearly all coastal states, which have expressed near-universal condemnation of the plan.

Zinke has said offshore drilling is a parcel of the Trump administration’s plan for “energy dominance.”

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