House Should Protect California Coast From Drilling

July 15, 2002
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(15 July 2002 -- Oakland) Environmental Defense today called on the U.S. House of Representatives to adopt an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill being considered this week which would preclude the issuance of any permits for the development of 36 active-but-undeveloped offshore drilling leases near Point Conception on the Central California coast.

The amendment, expected to be offered on the House floor on Tuesday, July 16, by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Nick Rayhall (D-WV), and George Miller (D-CA), would prevent the expenditure of appropriated funds by the Interior Department for granting any permits for exploration, delineation, or development drilling on the contested federal lease tracts offshore California.

"The amendment should push the administration to resolve the longstanding impasse over planned new offshore drilling along one of the most sensitive portions of the California coastline," said Richard Charter, Marine Conservation Advocate with Environmental Defense. "There is an overwhelming bipartisan consensus among virtually all of the players - the California congressional delegation, the Governor, local officials, and even the oil industry, that the question of these 36 active leases must ultimately be resolved through the relinquishment of these tracts. It is now time for the White House to do for California what it recently did for Florida, and find a fair and equitable way to resolve longstanding problems that, in some cases, date back to mistakes made by former Interior Secretary James Watt."

Similar congressional intervention preceded a previous 1995 agreement by the federal government to extinguish active-but-undeveloped offshore leases in Alaska's fishery-rich Bristol Bay, and legislative language identical to that now being proposed for California eventually led to the reacquisition of active-but-undeveloped offshore leases on the fishing grounds of North Carolina's Outer Banks in 2000.

In California, Governor Gray Davis, the California Coastal Commission, the state attorney general and numerous conservation groups (including Environmental Defense) are suing the Department of Interior to prevent drilling on these undeveloped offshore leases. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon has also stated his opposition to more offshore drilling on the state's coastline, and has said that he supports a resolution of the undeveloped coastal leases in question.