Legislature Takes up Coast and Ocean Issues as Summer Ends

Guest Blog by Emma Rapperport

While many Californians are hitting the beach for the last few weeks of summer vacation, legislators in Sacramento are rushing to finish and vote on several bills that will make a difference for our coast and ocean for years to come. Over the next few weeks, legislators will vote on laws to protect the coasts from offshore drilling and plastic pollution, and to preserve marine life and beach access in the face of climate change.  Here’s a roundup of what’s at stake for California’s coastal and ocean environment in the final month of the California legislative session this year, and how you can help.  

Offshore drilling, the threat is back.  After decades of bipartisan agreement about the importance of protecting the federal waters off California’s coastline from the threat of offshore drilling, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has announced a plan to open California’s waters to offshore drilling. It would be hard to overstate how senseless this plan is. California doesn't need more fossil fuels - the state is firmly committed to transitioning to renewable energy, and oil drilling offshore directly imperils ocean and tourism based livelihoods, which provide much more social and economic value than oil ever could. Californians remember the consequences of opening our coasts to drilling: the devastating 1969 spill off of the coast of Santa Barbara launched the modern environmental movement. Oil spills are not a relic of the past: beaches were coated in oil once again in 2015 in the Refugio spill, which covered some of the most diverse areas of the California coastline in crude oil. California has the largest ocean-dependent economy in the nation, worth nearly $45 billion as of 2015, when our ocean economy employed over half a million people, and generated approximately $22 billion in wages, according to the National Ocean Economics Program. In contrast, in 2015, the offshore oil industry provided just 7,803 jobs in the state, or about 1.5% of the jobs in the oceans sector. Two current bills in the California Assembly and Senate, AB 1775, and SB 834 would help protect California from Trump’s offshore drilling agenda.  AB 1775 and SB 834 would ban construction of new infrastructure in state waters (from the shoreline to 3 miles offshore) to support drilling. These bills have bi-partisan support, but they need your help to pass.

Coastal access for all.  In addition, this summer Assembly Joint Resolution AR-47, a joint statement by the Senate and Assembly is making its way through the legislative process, putting California’s elected leaders firmly on the record about the importance of protecting our coasts and ocean ecosystem. AR-47 details the seriousness of threats facing the ocean from climate change, ocean acidification, and hypoxia (“dead zones”) and declares the legislature's intent to direct our state’s scientific expertise and resources toward addressing these issues. This resolution is a breakthrough for two reasons: 1.) it clearly connects climate change action with sound ocean management, and 2.) it includes a call for equitable access to coastal resources – for everyone, not just those who can afford to live near the coast. 

Taking a bite out of plastic pollution.  AB 1884, colloquially known as the “Straw Law”, would cut down plastic straw pollution by switching the default option in restaurants from providing straws automatically to only providing straws on request. Plastic pollution is catastrophic for marine life, and plastic debris is now found in beaches and oceans across the world, and even in miniscule particles in the fish we consume. Cutting down the use of plastic straws is a good first step towards tackling systemic waste issues, and some California organizations and restaurants have already taken action, either by banning ban plastic straw use entirely or using biodegradable or reusable straws. AB 1884 is a good first step to cutting down on the scourge of plastic pollution that fouls our marine environment.  Tell your California state legislator to help crack down on plastic pollution by voting “Yes” on AB 1884.

Our state legislators have until August 31st to vote for AB 1775, SB 834, and AB 1884 and send them to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.  Please help these bills pass by contacting your legislators today, so the next time you enjoy California’s beaches, eat seafood, or see the sun set over the ocean horizon, you’ll know you’re a part of taking care of our ocean heritage.