10.20.21 OP-ED: California’s coast finds itself in peril again, end offshore oil drilling

Excerpted from the Orange County Register

By Cottie Petrie-Norris, Luz Rivas and Tasha Boerner-Horvath

Southern California’s pristine coastline has once again found itself a victim of the oil and gas industry. Over 25,000 gallons of oil have leaked from a burst pipeline in the coastal waters off Huntington Beach, marking yet another oil spill off our iconic shores.

The dirty and dangerous practices of offshore oil drilling have wreaked more than enough ecological and economic damage to our state over the last sixty years. This isn’t the first oil spill crisis California has faced, but it must be the last. We implore the Biden administration and Congress to finally preserve our coasts for future generations and protect our critical coastal economies by permanently ending offshore oil and gas drilling.

As legislators, we represent communities that are highly affected by coastal environmental disasters. Industries like tourism, recreation, and fishing are critical to the economic success of our region. Healthy oceans and clean coasts help these industries succeed.

These coastal-driven jobs represent a significant portion of the California job market. The clean coast economy supports approximately 654,000 jobs and generates $54.3 billion in gross domestic product for California, according to a recent report from the ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana. Failing to protect our natural resources and these jobs from future spills, especially on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, will only cause continued economic harm.

The full environmental and economic damage from this oil spill may never be known, but the lost wages and lost revenues will particularly hurt those who work and run businesses with already tight margins. California’s coast is a major economic driver of the state, and tourism accounts for over 75% of our coastal economy.  Working-class employees and small business owners in coastal industries like tourism, recreation, and fishing face the steepest losses from these oil spills.

It is unjust and inequitable for major corporations to benefit financially from these oil extractions only to have their oil spills directly harm working people. When the public loses access to the beach or fishing, it undeniably damages our local economies. Coastal communities, through no fault of their own, are then forced to manage the costs of these disastrous oil spills.

Most of the oil spilled into the ocean will never be recovered. No one knows when the last tarball from this spill will wash ashore or how much destruction it will inflict upon our marine ecology. This disaster is a result of decisions made over 30 years ago – it all started with a lease to extract oil in federal waters.

While we don’t know how much time it will take for marine life to recover from this latest environmental disaster, we do know that there are actions we can take right now to help prevent these disasters going forward.

That’s why we’re calling on Congress to permanently end offshore oil drilling off the Pacific coast. It is counterproductive for the federal government to continue to allow offshore drilling when our coastal economies bear the brunt of yet another human-caused environmental disaster.

We need our leaders in Washington to protect our communities and local economies from the threat of oil spills. The Build Back Better Act, which is currently making its way through Congress, includes provisions that would permanently end new leasing for offshore drilling in the Pacific Ocean, invest significant resources into a clean energy future, and ensure career transitions from the fossil fuel industry into green energy. This is a critical first step Congress must take this year, but we also need to end existing offshore drilling permanently to avoid future coastal disasters.

We don’t know when or where the next oil spill could occur if we continue to allow the oil industry to drill along our coast. What we do know is that when they drill, they spill, and no community should have to deal with these preventable disasters. In the Legislature, we are doing our part and investigating the nature and damage of the spill, but Congress and President Biden also need to act now to end all offshore oil drilling in federal waters.

Our coastal communities need to be reassured that our state’s most precious natural resource and critical economic engine are more important than the profits of the oil industry.