Legislators still deliberating sea level rise, rigs-to-reefs proposals

Environmental bills survive legislative house of origin and inch closer to a final decision.

SACRAMENTO — The United States is pulling out from the Paris Agreement on climate change but Pres. Donald J. Trump’s recent announcement does not appear to be slowing down California’s attempts to address apocalyptic environmental predictions such as sea level rise.

An amended version of Assembly Bill 184 (AB 184) is being fleshed out in the California State Senate, with members of the upper legislative house’s Natural Resources and Water Committee recently deliberating the proposal in a hearing.

AB 184 initially proposed to make planning tools available indefinitely for sea level rise initiatives. Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, proposed the legislation in hopes of updating a 2014 law that established a statewide online database for sea level rise modeling and planning.

A modified version of the bill – which was overwhelmingly approved by Assembly members in late April – would maintain the state’s efforts alive through at least Jan. 1, 2023.

The effects of climate change and sea level rise are being felt along the California coast, according to an Assembly floor legislative analysis.

“According to Ocean Protection Council (OPC), climate change has already caused eight inches of sea level rise at the San Francisco tidal gauge and scientists project an additional 3 to 5.5 feet or more of rising sea levels by 2100, within the lifetime of children born today,” the legislative analysis stated. “These higher water levels amplify the flooding that occurs during El Niño periods and coastal storms.”

The Natural Resources Agency, or NRA, is currently required to maintain a “Planning for Sea Level Rise Database” in conjunction with the Ocean Protection Council. NRA staff would update the database with information provided to it from public and private entities.

Maintaining a database for sea level rise modeling and planning could cost the state $65,000 annually.

Other attempts to address climate change and sea level rise include the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, also known as Proposition 1. The act includes a $7 billion bond, about half of which would be spent on projects focusing on climate change and sea level rise adaptation, according to an Assembly analysis of AB 184.

Rigs-to-Reefs Program Proposal

In a separate action the State Senate approved a rigs-to-reefs bill by a 30-4 vote on May 30.

Senate Bill 588 (SB 588) is now being deliberated by the Assembly and could go to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk if approved. The proposal aims to require decommissioned offshore oilrigs to be converted into an underwater artificial reef.

Current law requires decommissioned oilrigs and platforms to be removed at the end of production runs. The surrounding marine environment must be restored to its natural condition once the rigs and platforms are removed.

State Sen. Robert Hertzberg proposed the rigs-to-reefs bill to give oil companies a mechanism to apply for state funding.

“Oil companies have expressed an interest in decommissioning the aging platforms, but the current process for fully decommissioning and removing oil rigs in their entirety will destroy this valuable habitat. In addition, full removal of platforms is extremely expensive,” a legislative analysis stated of Hertzberg’s position. “Since federal law requires operators to continue pumping oil and gas until they have a decommissioning permit, there is an economic incentive for oil companies to keep pumping offshore oil. The longer this continues the more oil is pumped.

“Unfortunately, [the existing rigs-to-reefs law] did not specify several important steps in the permitting process and no funding has been appropriated … for the [rigs-to-reefs] program,” the legislative analysis continued of Hertzberg’s position.

Of course the rigs-to-reefs process is not cheap. A legislative analysis of SB 588 stated such a conversion could cost “in the mid- to high-millions per year.”

Revenue from the rigs-to-reefs program are also unknown at this time, according to the State Senate’s legislative analysis, but could be “in the hundreds of millions over time.”

Opponents of SB 588 stated the proposed rigs-to-reefs program does not properly address several environmental, legal and safety concerns.

“Allowing platforms to be abandoned at sea raises numerous environmental and safety concerns,” a portion of Environmental Defense Center’s SB 588 opposition letter stated. “Seafloor discard of all of even portions of spent offshore drilling platforms present entanglement issues for commercial fishing gear, perpetuation of toxic drilling waste, and new migratory pathways for the unwanted spread of invasive marine species. Objective science does not support claims that platforms function as productive habitat.”

Groups supporting SB 588 include the Coalition for Enhanced Marine Resources, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, Sportfishing Conservancy of California and United Anglers.

Those opposed to SB 588 include California Coastal Protection Network, Environmental Defense Center, Heal The Ocean, Ocean Protection Council, Sierra Club California, Surfrider Foundation and The Ocean Foundation, among others.

Parimal M. Rohit photo

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