California legislature ready to fight for clean coast
In a move pitting itself against the federal government, the California State Senate passed a resolution on Friday, May 5 opposing President Donald Trump’s “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” executive order.
The President’s executive order directs U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to explore offshore drilling options throughout the coastal United States. Zinke already began implementing Trump’s executive order on Monday, May 1 by initiating development on a five-year plan for oil and gas exploration in offshore waters, including California’s Sonoma County coast.
The orders received harsh criticism and backlash in California government, big and small, including from Senator Mike McGuire and Sonoma County Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. Senator McGuire represents almost 40 percent of the state’s coastline from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, including all 55 miles of Sonoma County coastline.
“The ocean is part of our life and livelihood on the North Coast,” said Senator Mike McGuire. “I grew up going to the coast with my mom. It’s truly a world wonder.”
On Facebook, Hopkins expressed her concern. “I’m honored to represent 55 miles of beautiful coastline … with no offshore oil rigs … and I’m ready to fight to keep it that way,” Hopkins wrote on Thursday, April 27.
In response to the President’s executive order, McGuire coauthored Senate Resolution 35 (SR-35), which states that California, “strongly and unequivocally supports the current federal prohibition on new oil or gas drilling in federal waters offshore California, opposes attempts to modify the prohibition and will consider any appropriate actions to maintain the prohibition.”
According to the resolution, there has been no new offshore oil and gas drilling in California since the Jan. 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that spewed roughly 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean and created a 35-mile long oil slick along the coastline.
“Over the last several decades, we’ve been in a battle to protect the California coast,” McGuire said. “Very few issues drive as many people out as offshore drilling. This battle has been fought and we’ll fight again.”
California legislature has passed many laws prohibiting offshore drilling in certain areas. In 1994 the state passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act prohibiting new oil and gas drilling unless the President of the United States found “a severe energy supply interruption.”
No such finding has been made by the Trump administration.
“In fact, we have a glut of oil on the market today,” McGuire said.
Nevertheless, oil drilling off the Sonoma County and nearby coasts could be lucrative. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management predicts the coastline between Point Arena and the Oregon border holds more than 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
However, McGuire’s believes oil leasing would endanger the coastal waters and those relying on it for their livelihoods. Opening up oil drilling could have devastating impacts to the state’s coastal environment and our coastal community economies, McGuire said.
“The Golden State’s coastal economy is worth $40 billion and 500,000 jobs are dependent on a healthy coast,” he added.
In Sonoma County, crab and salmon fishermen flock to the water to reel in millions of dollars worth of seafood a year.
“The North Coast has one of the premier fisheries,” McGuire said. “Imagine the calamity if we have a massive oil spill.”
McGuire believes an oil spill, big or small, would devastate an already struggling fishery. He recalled how the Santa Barbara oil spill destroyed 30 percent of the area’s fisheries but noted that all fisheries were affected after consumers were hesitant to purchase shrimp and other seafood from the area.
“The North Coast is the heart of the crab and salmon industries in California,” McGuire said, adding that the North Coast crab industry rakes in between $60 and $110 million annually. “An oil spill would be devastating.”
The fisheries drive tourism to the county and state, McGuire said, bringing roughly 150 million visitors from across the world to California’s coast every year. Sonoma County’s Coastal Highway is home to campsites, boutique inns and micro communities of locals who visited and stayed, moving permanently or buying a vacation home on the coast for the unadulterated view of the Pacific Ocean.
“I’ve been here since the ‘50s,” said Mary Williams, a Jenner resident. “We found a cabin by the community center and haven’t left.”
Williams, along with a dozen other Jenner residents protested the Trump administration on Inauguration Day.
“I’m terribly disturbed by the potential problems we face with this leadership. I’m terrified for the environment. That’s my biggest concern.”
McGuire acknowledged that Trump’s offshore drilling proposal scares a lot of Californians.
“It’s insane,” he said. “But he will lose. California has pumped up its legal budget. We will take Trump to court and he will lose in court. We will fight to our last breath to save our coast.”