PD Editorial: Protect California’s coast from oil drilling

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President Donald Trump wants to open California’s coastal waters to oil drilling. State lawmakers can’t stop him, but they can make it very difficult to pull off drilling. The time to act is now.

Two parallel bills — one sponsored by state Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg, the other by legislators from Southern California — would prohibit construction of oil facilities such as pipelines, platforms and piers close to shore. The state can enact such a ban because it controls the waters within 3 miles of its shorelines. The federal government takes over further out.

A ban on infrastructure within 3 miles of the coast would serve as a barrier to drilling. Even if the Trump administration issues permits to drill, without a convenient way to get the oil to onshore refineries, those permits won’t do much good.

Creative oil companies might look for other options. Perhaps they could load crude onto ships and bring it to friendlier waters, but that’s a bothersome, potentially expensive solution that lawmakers hope will convince drillers to look elsewhere.

There’s pressure for lawmakers to act now. The administration has already announced it will issue new offshore drilling permits, six of them off of California’s coast.

The only thing holding them up seems to be the upcoming midterm elections during which every seat in the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are up for grabs. Republicans currently hold majorities in both chambers, but they are precarious, particularly in the House. Trump probably doesn’t want to anger voters in coastal House districts before they cast their ballots.

That leaves a window of time for legislation to take effect, and the risks are too great not to take advantage of it.

The Trump administration prioritizes natural resource extraction, the effects on communities and the environment be damned. Look no further than a recent Energy Department memo supporting rolling back vehicle fuel efficiency targets. It concludes that increased oil production from fracking and offshore drilling mean that there is no longer a need to conserve oil.

Even under oilman President George W. Bush, energy conservation was an important national goal. Global and national oil reserves are finite, after all. America and the world cannot turn off the spigot overnight, but transitioning to alternatives is essential to the long-term viability of the economy.

Meanwhile, burning all that oil would emit even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at a time when the world is trying to dial back and maybe prevent the worst effects of climate change. The alternative is more hot, dry summers on the West Coast, ripe for wildfires.

And if that’s not enough reason to enact an oil infrastructure ban in California’s waters, the potential local impacts ought to sway the most skeptical lawmaker. It takes only one spill to devastate beautiful, tourism-generating shorelines and productive fisheries. Marine sanctuaries have provided some protection, but not enough.

California has had more than its share of conflicts with the Trump administration, but this one is different. There’s no lawsuit, no undoing of state authority. We can regulate what happens close to our shores, and lawmakers should do so before they head home at the end of the month.

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