Environmental Defense Decries Administration Action on CA Offshore Drilling

June 11, 2002

(10 June 2002 — Oakland) Environmental Defense today criticized the Bush administration for announcing that it will not buy back unused drilling leases off the coast of California. Oral arguments will be heard today in a legal challenge being brought by the State of California over 36 active-but-undeveloped offshore drilling leases.

A letter sent Friday from Interior Secretary Gale Norton to California Governor Gray Davis indicated the administration will not move to buy back active-but-undeveloped offshore drilling leases on the California coast near Pt. Conception.

“The administration has publicly argued that it would carefully respect the wishes of coastal governors when making decisions about offshore drilling. Unfortunately, the actual decisions on offshore drilling do not reflect those public statements,” said Environmental Defense marine advocate Richard Charter.

The Interior Department letter, which follows the recent announcement by the administration of a buyback of Florida offshore drilling tracts, cites Secretary Norton’s claim that “Florida opposes coastal drilling and California does not” as a reason for not granting similar protections to the California coastline. In fact, California Governor Gray Davis and members of California’s Congressional delegation in the U.S. House have requested the cancellation of the remaining offshore leases, and California has long opposed offshore drilling (see attached briefing paper). Governor Davis, the California Coastal Commission, the state attorney general and numerous conservation groups are suing the Department of Interior to prevent drilling on these undeveloped offshore leases. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon also opposes more offshore drilling on the state’s coastline, and has said that he supports a buyback of the undeveloped coastal leases in question.

“An important job of any Secretary of the Interior is to come up with a way to achieve constructive resolution for disagreements that often arise between the White House and states facing unwanted adverse impacts resulting from federal decisions,” said Charter. “This administration, having declined to amicably resolve the California drilling stalemate in the same manner recently so well-received in Florida, has now left it to the courts to determine the fate of the California coastline.”