Offshore drilling opponents gather in Encinitas

U.S. Reps. Mike Levin and Scott Peters were among the speakers at a news conference in Encinitas to denounce offshore drilling off the coast.
(Luke Harold)

Bob Keefe, executive director of clean energy advocacy group E2, said he remembers his daughters’ birthday parties, walks along the sand and watching the sunsets at Moonlight State Beach.

Concerned about offshore drilling putting the beach and local coastline at risk, he joined two local congressmen and other offshore drilling opponents at a news conference Sept. 4 at Moonlight Overlook, perched above the beach.

“There’s never been a spill that hasn’t devastated the local economy of the areas where the spills have happened,” said Keefe, adding that the beaches and oceans are the “lifeblood” of California’s economy.

Largely due to their coastal economies, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties account for 61% of California’s GDP, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) reiterated the need to eliminate the risk of oil spills that would keep tourists off San Diego’s coastline for an extended period of time. He mentioned the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that polluted nearby beaches and killed many birds and sea creatures.

“An oil disaster off our coast would cripple that tourism industry and send shockwaves across the state,” Peters said.

The Trump administration has faced pushback from eastern and western coastal communities, as well as lawsuits from environmental groups, over its efforts to deregulate and expand offshore drilling.

Earlier this year, in response to an attempt to loosen regulations on Obama-era rules designed to prevent catastrophic oil spills, the American Petroleum Institute affirmed its commitment to safety and preventing spills without government regulations.

But U.S. Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) said he’s worried that the oil industry holds an outsized influence over the Trump administration, including the current secretary of the interior, David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist.

“It’s not that they are too close to the oil industry, it’s that they are the oil industry,” Levin said.

The purpose of the news conference, hosted by advocacy group Oceana, was also to promote pending legislation from Democrats in the House and Senate that would protect California’s coast from offshore drilling. But they are not likely to advance beyond the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to bring many bills authored by Democrats to the floor. Even if they advanced to the desk of the president, he would likely veto them.

One of the bills in the U.S. Senate, The West Coast Ocean Protection Act, is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and cosponsored by Sen. Kamala Harris, both California Democrats. It was introduced in May, but hasn’t received a committee hearing or consideration on the Senate floor.

“Under this administration, our coasts are under direct attack and we must do everything we can do to protect them,” said Rudy Vargas, a district director for Harris.