California oil spill renews Democrats’ efforts to rein in offshore drilling
Kyle Grillot for CNN

California oil spill renews Democrats’ efforts to rein in offshore drilling

The slow-moving oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California, this week has reinvigorated federal and state lawmakers’ efforts to end offshore drilling.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act in the Senate earlier this year, which would permanently ban oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California introduced the bill in the House.

“Californians have made it clear: We don’t want oil drilling off our coast,” Feinstein said in a statement on Monday. “It’s time to stop dangerous offshore drilling and invest in safer, cleaner, energy solutions.”

California Rep. Mike Levin, a Democrat, also authored legislation to ban new offshore drilling leases along the Southern California coast. Levin told CNN his bill is an effort to protect the cherished “marine life and billions of dollars in ocean based economic activity that are central to our quality of life but are threatened by offshore drilling.”

While Levin, Feinstein, and Huffman are pursuing negotiations at the federal level, state lawmakers in California are also looking to take action. In addition to calling on his federal counterparts to pass a bill at the federal level to end all offshore oil drilling that would include currently operational platforms, Democratic California state Sen. David Min said in a statement he would be “exploring all of our legislative options at the state level.”

“We can no longer afford to continue to put big oil profits ahead of the health and safety of our communities,” Min said in a statement. “As the untold consequences of this environmental nightmare are made clear, it is my intention that this oil spill should be our last.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also wants to phase out fracking by 2024 and oil extraction by 2045, a spokesperson for his office said. Newsom, a Democrat, requested the California Air Resources Board explore how to phase out oil drilling across the state, and directed the state’s Geologic Energy Management Division to issue new regulations that would end fracking in the next three years.

“In the short term, California is ensuring that our existing oil and gas extraction sites are safe, that we protect workers and communities from health impacts of oil production, and that we stop any state subsidies to this set of industries as California continues to expedite its transition to a clean energy future and phase out oil and gas extraction,” Newsom’s spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

Federal lawmakers are in the midst of negotiating significant climate legislation and Democrats are pushing for a permanent ban on new drilling in federal waters to be included in the final budget bill.

The language already exists in House Democrats’ version of the budget bill, but it’s unclear if it will survive the Senate, which has a much closer vote margin and at least one senator — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — who has said he doesn’t want to eliminate fossil fuels.

And while having this language incorporated into a final bill is important to California’s federal lawmakers, none of them have signaled that this issue is a political red line that would prevent them from voting for the bill.

No new offshore drilling has been allowed in federal waters along the Pacific Coast since 1984. During the Trump administration, a five-year offshore leasing plan was proposed in 2018 that would have allowed drilling on the Pacific Coast.

The proposal was blocked by the courts, but Feinstein’s office said that “the threat of drilling will remain until a permanent ban is enacted.” A permanent federal ban could still be years away.

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