Aug. 23–Seeking to expand opposition to new offshore oil drilling beyond those concerned about the environment, activists are increasingly emphasizing the economic blowback they say will result if the Trump administration succeeds in its plan to open up new leases in U.S. waters — including those running the length of the West Coast.
The potential impact on local businesses and tourism was emphasized by most of the panelists at a Wednesday forum at the Newport Beach Civic Center, one of four town halls being held throughout Southern California this month to discuss the prospect of new oil leases.
“If we can’t make the environmental argument (to some people), we can make the economic argument,” said former Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner. “It’s the ocean and the harbors that bring the visitors here. They don’t come to see oil derricks out there and all the problems that come with them.”
Dozens of coastal and ocean-oriented businesses have banded together in the Business Alliance for Protecting the Pacific Coast, with participants ranging from the outdoor gear company Patagonia to Laguna Niguel’s Ritz-Carlton resort to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
A panel of environmentalists emphasized the potential negative impact on the economy of new oil drilling at a forum Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, at the Newport Beach Civic Center. (Photo by Martin Wisckol/SCNG)
But also speaking out against the new leases are mainstream business voices that aren’t so immediately identified with the coast.
Among them is the Orange County Business Council CEO Lucy Dunn, who joined Orange County Coastkeeper founder Garry Brown to pen an op-ed piece in the Orange County Register earlier this year.
“In 2017, Orange County’s tourism industry welcomed 48 million visitors to Orange County,” Dunn and Brown wrote. “They spent nearly $13 billion, generating $20.5 billion in economic impact, $2.4 billion in tax revenue and 175,000 tourism-related jobs.
“We can’t afford to jeopardize this vital economic engine nor the pristine marine environment and clean waters that support it by welcoming new offshore leases in Orange County.”
Even if visitors go to Disneyland their first day in town, they’re likely to visit the beach their second or third day here, Brown said at Wednesday’s forum.
Oceana’s Nancy Hastings, who organized the forum, noted that 65 of the state’s cities and counties have voted to oppose new drilling, often expressing concerns about the risk of oil spills.
But potentially more significant are two state bills that would ban new oil infrastructure on land or in state waters.
The measures have breezed through the Legislature so far and are scheduled for final votes before the end of the month.
While the bills would not directly address new oil drilling beyond three miles offshore — where state waters end and federal waters begin — they would provide a major deterrent by blocking new pipelines to bring the oil ashore.
Both measures are opposed by those in the petroleum industry. They say that as the state’s population has grown, so has its imported oil.
“California has the nation’s strongest environmental safeguards so it makes sense to meet our energy needs here under these strict standards, instead of relying upon more imported oil that is produced without these protections and impacts the environment when it is transported here by tanker ship or rail car,” said Rock Zierman, chief executive officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association, via email.
Opponents counter that the state has gotten along just fine since the last new leases of the state’s coast were signed in 1984 and the state is in the process of weaning itself off imported oil.
“We’ve made huge strides in other forms of energy,” Brown said Wednesday. “We’ve made it this far and (more drilling) should not be part of the future.”
The Trump administration is currently working on draft environmental studies for its proposal, with a final plan expected by the end of 2019.
Upcoming forums in the series will be held in Santa Clarita and Irvine:
Friday, Aug. 24, 7 p.m. Santa Clarita Activity Center, 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita. Scheduled speakers include state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Jessa Calderon on behalf of the Tongva and Chumash tribes. Invited but not confirmed is Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale.
Wednesday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m. UC Irvine, School of Social Ecology, Meeting Room SBSG 1517, Irvine. Speakers include Laguna Beach Councilwoman Toni Iseman and representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Surfrider foundation and Oceana. Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, declined an invitation, citing a scheduling conflict.
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