Exactly six months ago, I entered Congress promising to protect this great nation from threats foreign and domestic. Today I’m fulfilling that promise. A bill I introduced today would create a permanent ban on new offshore oil and natural gas drilling from platforms on the West Coast. We can’t change the past, but at least we can stop future exploration in federal waters near California, Oregon, and Washington.
Why now? For years, supporters of new offshore oil drilling have told us that platform drilling is clean and safe. The tragedy unfolding on the Gulf Coast proves them wrong. The potential devastation is immense to treasured wetlands, hundreds of miles of coastline, wildlife, and ocean-based industries like tourism and fishing. Many are already calling the Gulf Coast oil spill the worst natural resources disaster in U.S. history. While we can be saddened, we shouldn’t be surprised. The inevitable consequence of ‘drill, baby, drill’ is ‘spill, baby, spill’. Unless we block new offshore oil drilling, we will only expose our coastlines to even more disasters.
In the Gulf Coast, at least ten wildlife refuges and 40 percent of U.S. wetlands are likely to be impacted, potentially costing millions of dollars in coastal restoration. Tourism and fishing industries are severely threatened, and hundreds of species of wildlife could be impaired. Permanent closure of this oil spill is projected to take at least 90 days, and if the history of past oil spills is any indication, these projections have a habit of growing with time.
Our nation’s security demands that we move away from oil and spend our money on renewable green energy instead. Think how many solar panels and wind turbines could be installed with the millions spent on a sunken drilling rig and years of clean up.
We’re witnessing what offshore oil drilling reaps. Yes we get oil, but we also risk the destruction of natural preserves, the ruination of coastlines, and the disruption of ocean-based economies. Why would anyone want to open their coastline to the calamity we’re witnessing on the Gulf Coast?
My home state is familiar with this fight. In January 2009, as California’s Lieutenant Governor, I led the fight at the California State Lands Commission to block new drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. It would have been the first new offshore drilling lease in California in more than four decades and would have sent a dangerous signal to Washington that California’s coast was for sale.
Governor Schwarzenegger attempted to bypass the State Lands Commission’s independent authority, and I’m glad to say that after a protracted battle, we succeeded in blocking his efforts. This week, he finally backed off on his push for new drilling, citing the disaster in the Gulf Coast. Like the Governor, it’s time we learned from our past mistakes and stopped new platform drilling.
The battle for California’s coast also provides us a lesson from history. For you see, a major oil spill in Santa Barbara more than four decades ago reawakened our country’s appreciation for environmental protection. Lisa Margonelli, the director of the New America Foundation’s energy initiative, explains in a New York Times op-ed:
“The history of American oil spills is the history of the environmental movement. The 1969 blowout of an oil platform off Santa Barbara, Calif., gave rise to Earth Day as well as President Richard Nixon’s National Environmental Policy Act, and led to a moratorium on new drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. Twenty years later, the spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker near Alaska quashed the first Bush administration’s ambitions for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and ushered in the laws that made oil shippers liable for damage caused by their cargo.”
When the consequences of offshore oil drilling are faint memories, many Americans tune out the warnings of the environmental community. Yet as the horror stories pile up, as the videos and photos circulate on television and online, public opinion can turn quickly. We now have an opportunity to bestow our precious coasts with renewed protections. Let’s not let the devastation on the Gulf Coast happen in vain. In the name of this tragedy, let’s commit our nation to a brighter, greener path. Let’s stop new platform oil drilling on the West Coast.