Offshore drilling bills head to Appropriations for review

Fiscal committees in State Senate and Assembly will determine fates of SB 834 and AB 1775.

SACRAMENTO — A pair of bills seeking to prevent new offshore drilling activities off the California coast are currently being reviewed by the Appropriations Committees in both houses; each bill made it out of its respective committee in the State Senate and Assembly.

Senate Bill 834 (SB 834) and Assembly Bill 1775 (AB 1775) both challenge federal efforts to pursue new offshore drilling opportunities off the California coast. Both bills, if approved by state legislators and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, would continue California’s efforts to challenge Pres. Donald J. Trump’s environmental policies.

The Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee approved SB 834 by a 7-3 vote on June 25, allowing it to move forward to the lower house’s Appropriations Committee one day later. SB 834 made it out of the State Senate by a 24-8 vote (7 no-shows) on May 30.

AB 1775, meanwhile, made it out of the State Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee on June 26 (7-2 vote), setting it up to be in the upper house’s Appropriations Committee. Assembly members approved this proposal on May 30; the vote was 45-24 with 9 no-shows.

Both bills, which mirror each other, propose to prohibit oil and gas exploration on state lands associated with Outer Continental Shelf leases. State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assembly member Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, introduced their respective bills in response to Trump’s plan expand offshore oil and gas drilling opportunities in federal waters.

Jackson proposed a similar proposal in the State Senate last year, but the bill stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Legislators passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act in 1994; the act prohibited (with exceptions) new oil and gas leases in state coastal waters.

The State Lands Commission, according to a legislative analysis of SB 834, issued more than 50 offshore oil and gas leases between 1938 and 1968. The commission, however, stopped entering into any new offshore oil and gas leases after a January 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara.

“Existing oil and gas production continues to negatively impact California’s coast,” the latest legislative analysis of SB 834 stated. “In 1997, a pipeline owned by Houston-based Nuevo Energy off the Santa Barbara County coast ruptured due to a faulty weld and spilled crude oil into the ocean about 2.5 miles from the shore. The oil spread approximately 4 miles, oiling wildlife and killing hundreds of seabirds.

“In 2015, a pipeline owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline ruptured, spilling up to 140,000 gallons of heavy crude oil along the Gaviota coast in Santa Barbara

County,” the legislative analysis continued. “It is estimated that as much as 21,000 gallons of the oil went down a storm culvert onto cliffs and into the Pacific Ocean, ultimately stretching over nine miles of California coastline. These events highlight the persistent risk of existing oil infrastructure in the state.”

The Trump Administration announced in January it would plan to lift a moratorium on oil and gas exploration set by his predecessor, Pres. Barack Obama. Trump’s policy direction, according to the most recent legislative analysis of SB 834, would open up 90 percent of federal waters to new drilling leases.

A recent poll cited by legislative analysts showed 69 percent of Californians “opposed drilling off the California Coast;” the poll was conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Western States Petroleum Association, or WSPA, registered its opposition to AB 1775. The association stated the bill actually takes authority away from the State Lands Commission on tidelands leases; the commission already has the power to deny oil and gas leases on state lands under its jurisdiction, according to WSPA’s stated position.

Other organizations opposed to AB 1775 include California Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Business Council, Oxnard Chamber of Commerce, San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership and Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.

WSPA is the only listed opposition on the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee analysis of SB 834.

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