Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

California administration’s opposition to drilling offshore should extend onshore too

On Wednesday, the California State Lands Commission, headed by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, sent a letter to the Trump administration informing them that the state will not in any way facilitate the federal government’s disastrous offshore drilling plan. Released earlier this year, the Trump plan would open up offshore drilling off nearly the entirety of the United States coastline, including new leases off the California coast for the first time in decades.

In the letter, Newsom and his fellow commissioners lay out a series of arguments against drilling off the coast of California, ranging from risks of oil spills, to increased pollution near refineries, to the need to move away from fossil fuels in order to tackle our climate crisis. They state unequivocally that “[California] would not approve new pipelines or allow use of existing pipelines to transport oil from new leases ashore.”

All of the reasons given in the letter are important. The threats of offshore drilling on our coastlines are near and dear to Californians, with the memory of the Santa Barbara oil spill still sharp for many some 50 years after that catastrophic event. The Public Lands Commission’s reference to air pollution near refineries is an important admission of the impacts felt by communities along the fencelines who are already suffering the health impacts of existing pollution every day, let alone additional pollution owing to increased refining in the state.

In the release accompanying the letter, Newsom rightly says, “The polluting fossil fuel industry has perpetuated inequality by burdening disadvantaged communities with toxic air pollution from refineries, and it would be unethical to intensify these impacts by expanding oil production.”

Further, the letter’s inclusion of climate reasons to object to offshore drilling is particularly significant. For years, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration has resisted calls from climate advocates and local communities to limit oil and gas extraction in the state. Governor Brown has continually ignored the very real imperative of limiting California’s own oil production in order to contribute to the global climate effort. But this letter from members of the Public Lands Commission strikes a different note.

The letter states:

“The nationwide shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is propelling the economy forward. California is avidly transitioning to renewable energy and is a model for how to cultivate renewable energy, and its success has had a revolutionary effect. Already, a few dozen American cities have pledged to become 100 percent renewable. Continuing in this direction is the best way to maintain the nation’s position as a global energy leader.”

It goes on to say:

“The premise of the proposed leasing program is that extracting oil and gas from the nation’s oceans benefit the economy, but tapping into the ocean for oil development is folly — the fossil fuel era is ending, and California is not interested in the boom-or-bust oil economy.” (emphasis mine)

California’s Public Lands Commission and Lieutenant Governor Newsom are rightly suggest that the fossil fuel era is coming to end; it simply must if we hope to tackle our climate crisis. And they are right to advocate that the state of California play no part in allowing Trump’s energy dominance offshore drilling disaster to move forward. Offshore drilling — and all new fossil fuel development — flies completely in the face of California’s climate ambitions and commitment to reducing health risks in frontline communities.

This letter makes a powerful case for rejecting offshore drilling, but importantly it establishes an equally strong case for ending new oil development onshore as well. Indeed, in the statement accompanying the letter, State Controller and Public Lands Commissioner Bette Yee admits that oil drilling in the state must come to an end, saying, “As California continues to expand renewable energy uses and ceases oil drilling, the State Lands Commission will vigorously fight this reckless federal proposal in defense of our people, our environment, and our economy.”

This letter and the statements from Newsom and Yee are a welcome glimpse at what real climate leadership that actually tackles the challenge of limiting extraction in the state of California could look like.

As we approach the Global Climate Action Summit, hosted by Governor Brown later this year, the governor himself has an opportunity to show true leadership and announce new steps to limit fossil fuel extraction across the state. After all, the case for a managed phase out of fossil fuel production in California has now been clearly laid out by his own team.

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