Bills to protect California coast from new offshore drilling go into suspense files

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After passing the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a 6 to 2 vote on April 16, legislation authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to block the Trump Administration from expanding federal oil drilling in new leases off the California coast was referred to the suspense file of the powerful Appropriations Committee on April 30.

Jackson this January reintroduced Senate Bill 834, jointly authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), after Big Oil pumped millions of dollars of lobbying money into the campaign to defeat the measure and other legislation last year.

Many bills in the Appropriations Committee are placed on the suspense file to be heard at a suspense hearing on May 25. The bill is at this time “alive and well,” according to Jackson’s Office.

Assemblymember Al Muratushi (D-Torrance) authored a companion measure, AB 1775, jointly authored by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara). After passing the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on April 9, the Assembly Appropriations Committee referred AB 1775 to the suspense file on April 25.

In the first quarter of 2018 alone, the Western States Petroleum Association spent $2,025,000 to promote the Big Oil agenda, including opposing AB 1775 and SB 834, according to documents filed with the California Secretary of State on April 30.WSPA, the trade association for the oil industry in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona, is the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California.

Bills would prohibit infrastructure for new federal oil development in state waters

The bills would ensure that pipelines and other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil development cannot be built in California waters, effectively halting such expanded drilling efforts, according to Jackson’s Office.

The Trump Administration administration last January proposed a massive expansion in federal offshore oil drilling leases off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

SB 834 would block the expansion in California waters by prohibiting the State Lands Commission from approving any new leases for pipelines, piers, wharves, or other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil and gas development in the three-mile area off the coast that is controlled by the state.The bill would also prohibit “any lease renewal, extension or modification that would support the production, transportation or processing of new oil and gas.” The bill analysis is available here:

“The Trump Administration’s reckless proposal to expand offshore drilling is a direct threat to California’s pristine beaches, marine life and coastal economy,” said Senator Jackson. “Like most of the Trump Administration’s policies, this proposal is dangerous and destructive. SB 834 sends a strong message that California will not let the oil and gas industry undermine our environmental protections.”

In addition, these bills banning any lease renewal, extension or modification that would support the production, transportation or processing of new oil and gas would have also help stop the massive expansion of new offshore oil drilling in state waters that has already occurred under Governor Jerry Brown.

A broad coalition of conservation, fishing, environmental justice and consumer groups and Tribes back Jackson and Muratushi’s bills, but the Western States Petroleum Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and California Independent Petroleum Association and other oil industry supporters oppose the legislation.

Writing in opposition, the Western States Petroleum Association noted that “specifically this bill (SB 834)repeals existing authority from the [commission] to issue, renew, modify, or extend a lease or conveyance for oil and natural gas production if the leasewould result in an increase of production from federal waters. WSPA argues that:

SB 834 takes authority away from the commission on state tidelands leases.

SB 834 contains undefined, overbroad language ending existing production onexisting leases (and notes the uncertainty over how an “increase” in productionwould be determined).

SB 834 could force unintended environmental and fiscal consequences by avoiding the use of safer pipelines to transport oil, potential revenues losses and litigation expense.

Brown administration has overseen a big expansion of new offshore drilling

In spite of California’s reputation as a “green leader,” the oil industry has overseen a big expansion in offshore drilling in state waters in recent years.

In February 2017, an analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fracktracker Alliance revealed that Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved 238 new offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016, an increase of 17 percent. Roughly 171 of them were still active as of a year ago.

In addition, the number of  active onshore oil and gas wells has jumped 23 percent from 53,825 in 2009, the year before Brown was elected Governor, to 66,516 onshore wells at the end of 2016, according to Department of Conservation data.

The number of wells drilled and completed in 2014 alone jumped by 67 percent over 2011 to 6,896 from 4,636 on Governor Brown’s watch. The FracTacker Alliance report is available here:

In 1994, the Legislature passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act that prohibited new oil and gas leases in the state’s coastal waters, with some exceptions. Unfortunately, this prohibition on new oil and gas leases hasn’t halted the Brown administration’s massive expansion of new offshore wells in state waters under existing state leases.

Background: Big Oil Money dominates California politics

California’s coastal economy produces approximately $44.5 billion in GDP each year and employs almost half a million people in the state, but that hasn’t stopped the oil industry from drilling new offshore wells that pose a great threat to the fish, wildlife and ecosystem of the state’s coastal waters.

That’s because Big Oil dominated three out of the four top spots of expenditures by all lobbying organizations in 2017, the year that the oil industry-written AB 398 passed through the Legislature and Jackson’s bill blocking new federal offshore drilling went into the suspense file.

Outspending all of their competition, Chevron placed first with $8.2 million and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) placed second with $6.2 million. Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company finished fourth with $3.2 million. You can find more information on lobbying expenditures here:

That’s a total of $17.6 million dumped into lobbying by the three top oil industry lobbying organizations alone. That figure exceeds the $14,577,314 expended by all 16 oil lobby organizations in 2016.

In a major conflict of interest that exemplifies Big Oil’s enormous influence over California’s environmental processes, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, served as the chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California waters from 2009 to 2012. She also served on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012.

With a Big Oil lobbyist serving at the helm of a “marine protection” panel and Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approving 238 new offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases from 2012 to 2016, it is very clear that California is very far being being the “green leader” that state officials claim that it is.

Suspense File: A bill or set of bills, with a fiscal impact, set aside in Appropriations Committee by a majority of Members present and voting. These bills may be heard at a later hearing.