CA Leaders Pass Bills to Protect Coast from Drilling

The Trump Administration’s aspirations to expand offshore drilling in California became ever more ephemeral as California legislators approved two bills yesterday that create a major barrier to new offshore drilling in federal waters offshore California. The bills will require the State Lands Commission to deny any new construction of oil and gas-related infrastructure that could lead to expanded offshore oil and gas development.

Consistent with the State’s long and bipartisan history of opposition to new offshore drilling in federal waters, Republican Assemblymembers crossed party lines to support the bills. In so doing, legislators voted in solidarity with the 69% of Californians who oppose new drilling. Most Californians favor transitioning to clean energy and protecting California’s magnificent coast and ocean.

Last January, President Trump reinitiated the Five-Year Oil and Gas planning process and put forth the most radical proposed program of any administration, ever. California, for the first time in 34 years, could see the rights to drill in federal offshore waters sold off to oil companies. The current plan proposes six lease sales along the entire California coast, and calls for a lease sale in Southern California in 2020.

These bills, AB 1775 and SB 834, will use California’s authority to regulate its state waters to prohibit construction of any new infrastructure that could be used to bring offshore oil ashore to be processed.  

Two labor unions, Unite Here, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), wrote letters in support of the legislation. These endorsements demonstrate two fundamental facts about California’s present and future:

  1. The state’s commitment to protecting its beaches and marine life has created far more jobs than expanded offshore oil and gas production would yield;
  2. Promoting clean energy and transitioning away from polluting fossil fuels will benefit our communities, particularly in lower-income areas, that are disproportionately affected by the state’s oil and gas production.

The tourism and recreation portion of California’s ocean economy provides more than 418,000 jobs and generates over $22 billion in GDP. And, California’s clean energy sector leads the nation in clean energy jobs. Every work day, over half a million Californians perform jobs that power the economy and transition the U.S. to clean energy. In contrast, in 2015, the California offshore oil industry generated $2.8 billion in GDP, and only provided 7803 jobs; that’s 53 times fewer jobs than the tourism and recreation sector. The tourism and recreation sector of the ocean economy has grown 35 percent since 2005, demonstrating that it is a powerful economic engine for the state.

That AB 1775 passed with bi-partisan support perfectly illustrates California’s long history of opposing new offshore drilling. Both Republican and Democrat administrations and Legislators have recognized the value in standing with their constituents who have witnessed the devastation of the Santa Barbara, Refugio, and Huntington Beach spills. This bi-partisanship is exactly the sort of leadership we should be seeing from California’s Republican Representatives, but so far, zero California Republicans have publicly opposed new drilling offshore California. Today these communities have witnessed booming coastal tourism, while the fishing and recreation sectors offer Californians a bounty of jobs and revenue.

The Trump Administration should take note, the California legislature’s vote sends a clear message to Washington D.C.—our marine treasures and clean energy future will not be sold off to corporate interests. Congressional Republicans should follow the lead of their state legislators and publicly oppose new drilling in Federal waters offshore California. California’s future is one of clean beaches, healthy marine ecosystems, and thriving ocean tourism for all to enjoy.

About the Authors

Sandy Aylesworth

Oceans Advocate, Pacific Oceans Initiative, Oceans Division, Nature Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.