Oil rig

The Santa Barbara coast in southern California has been hit hard in recent months with fire and mudslides, twin assaults on the area’s spectacular natural beauty and affluent communities.

But in 1969, another deadly disaster, that one man-made, scarred the coastline. It was an epic oil spill from an offshore oil rig, at that time the worst in the nation’s history but two decades later surpassed by the Exxon Valdez catastrophe off Alaska.

The Union Oil Company’s spill off Santa Barbara released about 3 million gallons of crude into coastal waters, fouling the coastline and horrifying the public with TV images of dying animals, oil slicks, and blackened beaches. The spill helped spark the national environmental movement in the early 1970s, and especially in California turned many people against offshore oil drilling.

So it’s no  surprise that Californians have lined-up against President Trump’s proposal to open drilling on most of America’s outer continental shelf. The plan is “a step backward in time, toward an energy policy that blindly handcuffs the nation to an unsustainable future,” California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome said in a statement as the California State Lands Commission, which he chairs, submitted a protest letter to the federal Interior Department.

”Coastal Click To Tweet

Coastal states around the nation are also voicing their concerns and opposition to the proposed National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. That plan, still in draft, would allow the federal government to offer oil drilling leases in 47 areas of the U.S. coast from 2019 to 2024. The 60-day public comment period for the Draft Proposed Program closed March 9.

Development of the National OCS Plan includes three stages: The Draft Proposed Program, released in January, is to be followed by a Proposed Program, and then finally a Proposed Final Program by the end of 2019.

The Florida exemption idea stokes concerns

Several state officials have been fiercely upset by the action of the Trump administration Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, to exempt Florida from the drilling plan. His announcement via a series of tweets came shortly after a private meeting on January 9 in Tallahassee with Republican Governor Rick Scott, a potential candidate for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Bill Nelson.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke wrote in one tweet.

For coastal states led by Democratic governors – California, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Rhode Island – the tweet amounted to piling kindling onto smoldering coals.

California Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra tweeted that “California is also ‘unique’ & our ‘coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.’ … If that’s your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately.”

Maryland Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh has joined Becerra and other A.G.s in condemning the plan – and its exemption of Florida. “It’s outrageous,” Frosh told the Washington Post. “Maryland has everything Florida’s got except Mar-a-Lago,” a reference to President Trump’s golf club and “southern White House” in Palm Beach.

”On Click To Tweet

It turns out that Zinke’s announced exemption of Florida might not stand after all. “We have no formal decision yet on what is in or out of the five-year program,” Walter Cruickshank, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), an agency of the Interior Department, told lawmakers in a congressional hearing in January.

A dozen state A.G.s voice concerns

On February 1, a dozen state attorney generals – including Becerra and Frosch – co-signed a letter in opposition to the plan. They wrote that the plan threatens the jobs of three million people who depend on the ocean and coastal economy – a sector of the national economy that generated $350 billion in GDP in 2014. “It also endangers the unique ecologies of our shores and state ocean waters,” they wrote.

“If the Department of the Interior does not terminate the Draft Proposed Program, or remove the areas off our coasts from future consideration for oil and gas leasing, we will vigorously oppose the Department’s Program, using appropriate legal avenues.”

In California – where hostility to the Trump administration’s environmental policies and other initiatives runs broad and deep – the Lands Commission told Kelly Hammerle, National Program Manager for the BOEM, that “it is certain that the state would not approve new pipelines or allow use of existing pipelines to transport oil from new leases onshore.”

‘Not a single drop’ to traverse California

Should that approach come to fruition, it certainly could make drilling off the coast of California much more expensive for oil companies: They would be faced with the prospect of transferring oil from rigs directly to tankers.

Gavin Newsome – widely considered the frontrunner to succeed Jerry Brown as the state’s next governor — said in a February statement that he is “resolved that not a single drop from Trump’s new oil plan ever makes landfall in California.”

On that point, he has powerful in-state support from the California Coastal Commission, no slacker when it comes to flexing its muscles. Commission spokesperson Noaki Schwartz in February wrote in an e-mail to Buzzfeed News that the commission has significant authority to “review federal activities for consistency with state objectives.”

“That’s a huge tool because it gives states a say [in] what gets leased off the coast,” Schwartz said. “We’re the only state agency with direct review authority over offshore drilling in federal waters.”

Washington State Democratic Governor Jay Inslee, an ardent proponent for taking action on climate change, has said his state could impose tax increases, or even close the state’s ports, affecting oil and gas equipment.

Along East Coast, ‘geography will drive the politics’

On the East Coast, Rhode Island, where the state has taken steps to promote renewable energy such as the Wind Island Block Wind Farm, Democratic Governor Gina Raimundo has said turning to offshore oil drilling would be a step backward.

Along the Eastern Seaboard, grassroots opposition to Trump administration plans for offshore oil drilling could spell trouble for Republican candidates in the 2018 elections – as is the case on the West Coast.

“For members that have districts that are impacted, it will definitely be an issue,” Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who represents a coastal district and opposes offshore drilling, told McClatchy news in Washington in early January. “Geography will drive the politics here.”

Perhaps, but some lawmakers remain bullish on Trump’s proposal. “I’m thrilled we finally have a president who shares my desire to responsibly open North Carolina to energy exploration and energy jobs while protecting our beautiful coastal waters,” Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., has said.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s elected leaders, including independent Governor Bill Walker, have supported expanding offshore oil drilling. Republican Senior Senator Lisa Murkowski has also supported drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

No surprise – environmentalists oppose drilling plan

With state officials and politicians lining up for or against Trump’s plan, environmental activists have become increasingly vocal in their opposition. The Sierra Club has chronicled southern opposition to the plan. The February 1 article in its national magazine noted: “Backlash to the plan from coastal communities has been significant in both red and blue states, but especially so in Republican-dominated South Carolina, where bipartisan momentum to protect the coastline has been building for years.” Meanwhile, other groups such as the Surfrider Foundation have launched their own campaigns to mobilize opposition.

A series of six short films on the environmental impacts of offshore oil drilling has been shown in communities around the country. At a recent showing in Encinitas, California, about 25 miles north of San Diego, representatives from Oceana, the local Sierra Club, and the Surfrider Foundation organized audience members to write to their local representatives, lobby their local city councils to pass symbolic resolutions against the drilling plan, and get involved in other activist work.

“This is a two-year process, and we’ll be fighting it everywhere,” said Brady Bradshaw, a campaign organizer with Oceana.

For more on state opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore oil drilling:


California officials blast Trump’s oil-drilling proposal as dangerous and unneeded

California says will block crude oil from Trump offshore drilling plan

Santa Barbara County resolution opposes new federal offshore oil leases along California coast

Schwarzenegger to Trump: ‘Don’t touch California. If you want to drill, do it off Mar-a-Lago’

South Carolina

Trump creates political trouble for GOP coastal state governors


Zinke removing Florida from offshore drilling plan

Offshore drilling plan under fire: Zinke may have violated law, senator says

Dem senator puts hold on Trump nominees over offshore drilling plan

Florida got an exemption to the offshore drilling plan. Now 12 other states want one too.

If Florida’s offshore oil rush ever happens, only one side of the state is likely to see it


Connelly: Keep oil drilling rigs off coasts, senators tell Interior secretary

New Jersey

N.J. environmental groups band together to oppose expanded offshore drilling

Bruce Lieberman

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...