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Oil and gas developments along California coast fall out of favor with lawmakers

Senate Bill 704 comes in the wake of numerous high-profile oil spills and accidents that befouled California's most prized possession — its coastline.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California lawmakers passed new legislation Tuesday to remove provisions in state law which favor the approval of oil and gas developments along the Golden State's famed coastline.

More than 80% of the state's Assembly and Senate members voted “yes” on Senate Bill 704. If signed, the bill will amend the California Coastal Act to remove an “industrial override” provision favoring approval for oil and gas developments along the coast — regardless of whether those proposed developments meet state resource protection policies.

If Governor Gavin Newsom signs the bill, new or expanded oil and gas developments, including refineries and petrochemical facilities, will face oversight under policies meant protect California’s ocean and coast.

The bill's author, state Senator Dave Min — a Democrat representing Orange County — said on X, formerly Twitter, that "SB 704 levels the playing field and closes the lingering loopholes that, for too long, permitted unchecked oil and gas development."

Any development proposed within California’s coastal zone typically needs a coastal development permit under laws written to protect regional ecosystems. Since the Coastal Act’s passage in 1976, oil and gas developments have enjoyed a special status through an override provision and must only meet minimal requirements to obtain a permit.

In a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, experts said that the bill matters because offshore drilling on the Pacific coast causes air pollution and health harms to people in coastal communities and has led to numerous oil spills and leaks. 

The 2021 Amplify Energy pipeline spill near Huntington Beach released tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, killing many birds, fish and other marine life. Plains All American Pipeline Company’s Line 901 ruptured in 2015 at Refugio State Beach, releasing more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil. The center also pointed out that coastal oil and gas infrastructure frequently leads to public funds being used to cover cleanup costs when facilities need plugging, abandonment and decommissioning — such as at Line 96 in Santa Barbara County.

“What a great relief that the California Legislature has worked to close this outrageous decades-old loophole benefitting the oil industry,” said Brady Bradshaw, senior oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a major step forward in protecting our coast from oil spills and the climate chaos caused by fossil fuel production. Governor Newsom should sign this bill immediately.”

Newsom has for years waged a battle against Big Oil, having recently created an oversight body to hold petroleum companies accountable after abandoning his attempt to tax those who raised gas prices last fall. 

California remains the seventh-largest oil producing state, but the governor has emphasized his desire for lawmakers to increase transparency and oversight over the oil industry. He has proclaimed California as the nation’s leader in green energy, with policies such as Executive Order N-79-20 to push the approval of a new deadline to require all new vehicles sold in the state starting in 2035 to use electricity or hydrogen power.

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Categories / Energy, Environment, Government, Regional

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