Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason

Oil and omission

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More than 1.6 million comments opposing the Trump administration's plan to open 95 percent of our coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling have poured into the Department of the Interior since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the plan. They include resolutions and letters from the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington; from California coastal cities; and from Humboldt, Mendocino, Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties.

Guess which Central Coast county is not among them—and, if the April 17 meeting of the SLO County Board of Supervisors is any indication, never will be?

Specifically, the plan all those letters and resolutions oppose is the 2019-24 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which Secretary Zinke announced on Jan. 4 of this year. If you wanted to have a say on the draft plan, you needed to send your comments to the Department of the Interior during the public comment period on the plan, a window that closed on March 9.

The resolutions from the coastal counties and cities that managed to meet that deadline were based on model resolutions that circulated throughout the Pacific coastal states. At the Feb. 6 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, where the refusal by Supervisor Debbie Arnold and Supervisor Lynn Compton to second a motion by Supervisor Bruce Gibson killed any chance of getting comments from the county on the record of the draft plan, Compton said she didn't like the wording of the suggested resolution—an explanation that made precisely no sense because the motion she allowed to die was a motion to ask staff to draft a resolution and bring it back to the board for consideration and any amendments any supervisor desired.

The resolutions sent to Secretary Zinke by local governments that managed to act in a timely fashion have variously stated:

• A massive oil spill in 1969 off the coast of Santa Barbara fouled coastal waters and caused catastrophic economic and environmental damage ...

• In 2015, a pipeline servicing offshore oil platforms burst and fouled the same coastal areas, damaging wildlife and impacting recreational and commercial activities ...

• The Trump administration is considering expanding offshore oil and gas leasing to new areas, which have largely been off limits to new federal leasing, including the Pacific Coast ...

• Expanding offshore drilling, fracking, and other well stimulation off the California coast will deepen the state's dependence on fossil fuels and undermine its efforts to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving toward renewable energy ...

No such language appeared in the county's draft resolution that finally made a tardy appearance on the supervisors' dais on April 17. Arnold tried to explain why such language wasn't needed in the resolution that she and Compton were suddenly eager to vote for. That document, in strained, context-free bureaucratese, contented itself with gesturing toward county policies and then throwing in a kicker that was in no other resolution:

"The county is available and willing to work with the Department of the Interior in the development of an offshore energy plan that provides for needed energy while ensuring protection of our important natural resources."

Testimony submitted by Eric Greening noted that, "Our county should not be volunteering to help Interior write an offshore energy plan. Our county already has an offshore energy element, which is 180 degrees at variance with what the Interior Department is seeking."

In shooting down that peculiar resolution, Supervisor Adam Hill noted that the language "should mirror what other coastal communities up and down California have done." Supervisor Gibson said the resolution's recitals "need to be expanded to give a full picture of why it is that this county opposes offshore exploration."

Arnold retorted that the county sent a letter to Zinke in March 2017 (before the opening of public comment on the five-year draft plan and therefore, per regulations.gov, not part of that administrative record, Supervisor Arnold's belief to the contrary notwithstanding), and that SLO County is special because "other counties don't have Measure A," a local ordinance passed in 1986 that requires a referendum on onshore infrastructure for new offshore rigs. But, in fact, more than 20 coastal communities have the equivalent of Measure A, including eight of the 11 coastal counties now on record opposing the Trump/Zinke offshore oil plan. As people intimately involved with the creation and passage of those ballot measures will tell you, they won't save us if the Trump/Zinke plan comes to pass.

Facts matter. If, at any point in the future, supervisors Arnold or Compton recite their generic, context-free opposition to offshore oil while omitting the above details, let the record show: Their specific accomplishment on this issue was ensuring that the SLO County Board of Supervisors made no comment on the 2019-24 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program as drafted by the Trump administration. Δ

Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through the editor atclanham@newtimesslo.comor get your thoughts published by emailing a letter toletters@newtimesslo.com.

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