Garamendi Introduces Bill to Ban New Oil Drilling Off West Coast

“We can’t change the past, but at least we can stop future exploration in federal waters near California, Oregon, and Washington,” said Congressmen John Garamendi. “Why now? For years, supporters of new offshore oil drilling have told us that platform drilling is clean and safe. The tragedy unfolding on the Gulf Coast proves them wrong.

The outrage over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has spurred many to seek a permanent ban on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the West Coast to prevent a similar environmental disaster from happening in our ocean waters

At the same time, an oil industry lobbyist who has served on three panels charged with designating “marine protected areas” along the California coast is calling for more oil drilling off the California coast as the unprecedented environmental disaster unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico.

On May 5, Garamendi introduced a bill that would create a permanent ban on new offshore oil and natural gas drilling from platforms on the West Coast.

Garamendi said the potential devastation is “immense” to treasured wetlands, hundreds of miles of coastline, wildlife and ocean-based industries like tourism and fishing.

John Garamendi: Consequence of “Drill, Baby, Drill” Is “Spill, Baby, Spill”

“Many are already calling the Gulf Coast oil spill the worst natural resources disaster in US history,” said Garamendi. “While we can be saddened, we shouldn’t be surprised. The inevitable consequence of ‘drill, baby, drill’ is ‘spill, baby, spill’. Unless we block new offshore oil drilling, we will only expose our coastlines to even more disasters.”

At least ten wildlife refuges and 40 percent of US wetlands are likely to be impacted on the Gulf Coast, potentially costing millions of dollars in coastal restoration. The tourism and fishing industries are severely threatened and hundreds of species of wildlife could be impaired, according to Garamendi.

“Permanent closure of this oil spill is projected to take at least 90 days, and if the history of past oil spills is any indication, these projections have a habit of growing with time,” he stated.

However, the oil industry, in spite of the latest tragedy, supports increased oil drilling off the California coast. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, affirmed the oil industry’s mantra of “drill, baby, drill” in an interview with Guy Kovner of Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

In a bizarre case of corporate greenwashing that could only take place under the Schwarzenegger administration, Reheis-Boyd is also chair of Governor Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast! She also was a member of the MLPA Task Force for the North Central Coast and now sits on the task force for the North Coast.

These panels are charged with developing so-called “marine protected areas (MPAs)” that remove sustainable fishermen, American Indians and seaweed harvesters from public trust ocean waters while doing nothing to stop water pollution, habitat destruction and oil and gas spills.

“California offshore wells operate in shallow water, no more than 1,200 feet deep, a ‘whole different dynamic’ than the Gulf of Mexico’s deep water wells,” Reheis-Boyd claimed, according to the article.

“Our economy and our lifestyle depend on it,” she said, referring to the 36 million-barrel a year yield from offshore wells.

“Reheis-Boyd conceded that the industry will ‘learn lessons’ from the gulf blowout, but the choices remain unchanged for a state that imports 320 million barrels of oil a year: either expand in-state production or ‘become more dependent on foreign oil,'” Kovner stated.

Reheis Boyd: “Our Industry Operates Safely in the Marine Environment

On March 31, Reheis-Boyd told The San Francisco Chronicle that she hopes the Obama administration “will eventually allow new drilling off the California coast.”

“We are disappointed,” Reheis-Boyd said, in response to Obama’s March 30 announcement that the US will begin drilling for oil in the waters off the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico – and NOT in the waters off California. “When you look at the resources here, they’re considerable.”

Critics of her appointment to the panels believe that she has been placed there to protect the oil industry’s interests – and to make sure that MPAs don’t conflict with the operation of existing offshore oil rigs or the installation of new rigs if the Obama administration lifts the ban on oil drilling off the California coast.

“There are more than 10 billion barrels of crude oil reserves located off the California coast and huge reserves of natural gas,” Reheis-Boyd said earlier this year in “A Message from WSPA” on the oil industry group’s web site. “Our industry has demonstrated over the past 40 years it can and does operate safely in the marine environment.”

Reheis-Boyd also told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on April 1 that she was “disappointed” by Obama’s decision to continue excluding California’s “resource-rich” waters from energy development.

“Without added offshore oil development, the state would have to bring in more oil by tanker, and ‘we don’t want that,'” Reheis-Boyd said, according to the Press Democrat.

Environmentalists and fishermen are outraged that an oil industry lobbyist that is calling for new oil and gad drilling off the coast has been entrusted by the governor as a “marine guardian.”

John Stephens-Lewallen and other North Coast environmentalists and fishermen have charged that the MLPA, a law passed by the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999, has been hijacked by oil industry, real estate and marina development interests under the Schwarzenegger administration. The MLPA Initiative since 2004 has been funded by a private corporation, the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation.

Point Arena Basin Target of New Drilling by Oil Industry

“In March, Reheis-Boyd assured the Fort Bragg City Council that setting up marine reserves had nothing to do with opening offshore oil drilling up,” said Stephens-Lewallen. “But at same time, Reheis-Boyd and other members of the task force toured port facilities at the Albion and Noyo harbors where we suspect the oil industry could eventually install onshore facilities to be used in tandem with offshore rigs. The North Coast Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) seem designed to eliminate the fishing industry in the Point Area area, since they bracket the harbor.”

Stephens-Lewallen questioned whether the placement of these marine reserves has been designed to facilitate the development of offshore oil in the Point Arena Basin in Mendocino County. This is one of the areas the oil industry is most interested in exploring for oil – and is one of the greatest marine ecosystems, sustained by upwelling, on the West Coast.

“Any oil pollution generated from normal operations or a spill will be carried by the California current all of the way to Monterey Bay,” said Stephens-Lewallen, evoking the image of an environmental catastrophe like that of the Gulf Spill, Exxon Valdez or 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill ravaging our coastal waters and beaches.

The geyser of oil from the BP spill has dumped 200,000 gallons of fuel a day into the Gulf for more than two weeks. If Reheis Boyd and other oil industry advocates have their way, we could see a similar event in California – and the corrupt MLPA process will do nothing to stop an environmental event like this from taking place.

Governor Schwarzenegger has fast-tracked the MLPA process at the same time that he is pushing for the construction of a peripheral canal and new dams to provide increased water exports from the California Delta to corporate agribusiness, southern California water agencies and water privateers. The construction of the peripheral canal is likely to result in the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, green sturgeon, and other fish populations.

Schwarzenegger’s peripheral canal campaign and his privately funded MLPA process are the two sides of the same corporate greenwashing process that facilitates the privatization of public trust resources at the expense of fish populations, fishing communities, California Indian Tribes and the democratic process. Real environmentalists don’t support new oil rigs, the peripheral canal or Governor Schwarzenegger’s fast-track MLPA process.

For a map of the oil spill, go here.