Bill by Congressman Jared Huffman would permanently ban West Coast oil drilling
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, with backing from a host of West Coast lawmakers, introduced a bill Wednesday to permanently ban offshore oil drilling on the Pacific Coast, a sweeping measure that would fulfill environmentalists’ dreams but is unlikely to advance in the current Congress.
Titled the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, the two-page bill states that the U.S. Secretary of Interior “shall not issue a lease for the exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas in any area of the outer Continental Shelf off the coast of the State of California, Oregon, or Washington.’’
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, joined Huffman in introducing the measure, which had 16 Democratic co-sponsors from California, Oregon, Washington and Maryland, including Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.
Barring oil wells along the scenic North Coast has been a political holy grail of Democratic lawmakers for decades, gaining urgency since the presidential and congressional moratoriums on drilling in federal waters lapsed in 2008, leaving more than half of California’s coast open to energy development.
Marine sanctuaries that stretch 350 miles from Cambria in San Luis Obispo County to Manchester Beach in Mendocino County prohibit oil drilling, but Huffman said the sanctuary regulations — established by executive action rather than legislation — could be revised by a future administration.
“This is never, ever,” he said, referring to the bill’s prohibition.
Action on the bill by the Republican-controlled Congress is “unlikely right now,” Huffman acknowledged, noting that he is renewing the request sought by other lawmakers in the past and is in it “for the long haul.”
“The political window will open sometime soon,” he said.
Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran coastal protection advocate, said the matter “may be an uphill fight in this particular Congress, but with the prospect of a new president not that far in the future, it’s important to protect our clean-coast economy by asking for what we want.”
“We need this,” Charter added.
The coastal economies of the three West Coast states outside of Alaska generate $44 billion in revenue and support nearly 650,000 jobs, Huffman said in a press release.
“The North Coast is simply not an appropriate place for offshore oil drilling,” Thompson said in the news release. “If an oil spill were to occur in this area, not only would the economic damage to businesses and tourism be staggering, the rocky shores and rough seas would make a cleanup impossible.”
Huffman’s district stretches from Marin County to the Oregon border. Thompson, whose inland district includes Santa Rosa, previously represented the North Coast.
California’s Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, introduced a companion bill last month.