LOS ANGELES (CN) — Environmental groups concerned that President-elect Donald Trump will expand fracking and oil drilling off the California coast are calling on President Barack Obama to declare a permanent bar on new leases.
The Center for Biological Diversity sounded the alarm this week, suing the Department of the Interior and two of its divisions for allowing fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, under leases in the Santa Barbara channel. Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer joined a chorus of politicians who urged Obama to take action.
“We've heard Trump say that he wants to expand offshore drilling, including in areas where it's currently blocked,” the group’s attorney Kristen Monsell said in an interview.
“Off the coast of California, we haven't seen new leases in federal waters in decades, and are seriously concerned that that could change under a Trump administration. … It would be a disaster for our climate. It would be a disaster for California.”
A total of four environmental groups sued the Department of the Interior in two federal lawsuits, the Environmental Defense Center and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper on Nov. 11, and the Center for Biological Diversity and Wishtoyo Foundation on Tuesday. The lead defendant in both cases is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, followed by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
The environmentalists believe the Trump presidency will embolden the Republican Party to lift a federal ban on new oil drilling in coastal areas and extend leases to drill in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The powerful oil and gas industry would welcome expansion of natural gas and oil operations in state and federal waters, which environmentalists say would affect the coastlines of Malibu, Orange County and Humboldt County in Northern California.
Monsell said that the Center for Biological Diversity is urging Obama to use his powers under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to declare a ban on new oil and gas leasing on the West Coast.
California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein joined seven other Democrats on Wednesday in asking Obama to permanently bar new leases.
“Opening up the coast to more fossil fuel development poses a threat to our oceans and the coastal economies that depend on them," they wrote in a letter to the president. “We appreciate your administration's ongoing commitment to keep new West Coast lease sales off of the table. ... However, without a permanent withdrawal, we cannot be certain that the coastline would not see new oil and gas development in the future.”
Monsell said that without a permanent moratorium, the president-elect could expand leases in federal waters in the Pacific for the first time since the 1980s.
California has prohibited new leases in state waters because of the devastating effect on the environment; Monsell said Obama should follow suit.
“Federal waters deserve the same protection," she said.
Since Trump’s election on Nov. 8, environmentalists have fretted over his administration’s environmental policy. Trump has defied the scientific consensus to describe climate change as a hoax. He has vowed to undo a 2015 Paris agreement between nations to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and try to keep global warming below 2 degrees Centigrade.
Trump has said he intends to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency and Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution.
He has appointed climate-science denier Myron Ebell to head his EPA transition team.
Trump promised during his campaign that his administration would create millions of jobs in the energy sector while protecting the environment.
But the contradictions that characterized Trump’s campaign apply to his energy policies as well. Trump says his administration will support the burning of fossil fuels, including coal, and fracking and expanding oil and gas production on federal lands.
Trump’s campaign website says he will “support continued research into advanced energy technologies” but “will not be in the business of government picking winners and losers.”
That indicates to some that he will cut funding for renewable energy sources in an attempt to revive the coal industry.
Malibu Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal said she was part of a group that resisted a liquefied natural gas platform off of the affluent beach city in 2007. She said the community would resist any efforts to expand fracking in its waters.
"That would be a very frightening prospect, to think the new administration would be looking at increasing oil production and building new oil platforms off of our coast," Rosenthal said in an interview.
In its lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity asked the court to enjoin the Obama administration from violating the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. The center claims, among other things, that the defendants approved fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel in May without proper environmental review.
The agencies agreed that chemicals used in fracking are hazardous but did not detail how they might endanger marine life and pollute water in their review, according to the complaint.
“Offshore drilling increases the risk of oil spills. It pollutes our ocean and exacerbates climate change,” Monsell said. “While there's still a lot of unknowns with respect to the impact of fracking chemicals on the ocean, what we do know is cause for huge concern because chemicals that oil companies are using are among the most toxic in the entire world.”
The federal government has given oil companies permits to dump 9 billions of gallons of wastewater into the ocean each year, Monsell said.
The Center for Biological Diversity also claims the defendants did not study the impact of fracking on submerged sites of the Chumash tribe.
They want fracking enjoined until the defendant agencies comply with environmental laws.
The Environmental Defense Center’s lawsuit makes similar arguments.
In May 2015, 140,000 gallons of raw crude oil to spill from a ruptured 24-inch pipeline in Santa Barbara County. The oil traveled down a culvert beneath a highway and created a spill on Refugio state beach that killed birds and sea lions.
Neither Trump’s press office nor Ebell immediately responded to requests for comment on Wednesday by email and telephone.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokeswoman Connie Gillette said she could not comment on pending litigation.
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