Should oil drilling be allowed in the Pacific Ocean, right off the American west coast?
Federal lease sales for oil drilling in the waters off of California last took place in 1984. But the Trump Administration released a five-year plan last year which would open up the waters off the western continental U.S. to oil drilling, for the first time in three and a half decades.
According to Trump’s Interior Department estimates, the plan would make 98% of the country’s “undiscovered but technically recoverable” oil and gas resources available, compared to only 6% available currently.
What the legislation does
The West Coast Ocean Protection Act would permanently ban offshore drilling off the west coast, enshrining a long-followed guideline into federal law.
It was introduced in the House on January 8 as bill number H.R. 310, by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA2). It was introduced in the Senate several months later on May 2 as bill number S. 1318, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill is better for the environment and prevents harm to coastal economics such as fishermen and beaches.
“The science and wave of public opposition is clear: America’s oceans must be protected from dangerous offshore drilling,” Rep. Huffman said in a press release. “Opening our public waters up to oil and gas companies puts fragile ecosystems in jeopardy for environmental catastrophe. We cannot stand idly by while the Trump administration places the short-term profit goals of polluters over the long-term interests of the American people.”
“Doubling down on the failed ‘drill, baby, drill’ approach threatens our oceans and coastal economies while doing nothing to reduce carbon emissions or increase our energy independence,” Sen. Feinstein said in a press release. “While the Trump administration has already admitted its offshore drilling plan is being delayed by legal setbacks, we can’t risk leaving our oceans unprotected if it prevails.”
Feinstein referenced April’s announcement by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that the planned west coast oil drilling would be temporarily delayed, after a federal judge in Alaska ruled against the program. The decision is being appealed.
What opponents say
Opponents counter that offshore drilling, as long as there are appropriate safeguards, is better for the economy and American energy independence from often-hostile foreign powers.
“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a 2018 press release announcing the proposed changes.
“Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks,” Secretary Zinke continued. “The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”
Odds of passage
The House version has attracted 29 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a possible vote in the House Natural Resources Committee.
A successful vote in the Democratic-controlled House seems very possible, especially because Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district of California is affected. She strongly opposed Trump’s proposed west coast oil expansion the day it was announced.
The Senate version has attracted 12 cosponsors, all Democrats or Democratic-affiliated independents. It awaits a possible vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Odds are much steeper in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Indeed, advocates’ best hope may be the courts. In a March decision, Alaska’s District Court Judge Sharon Gleason halted President Trump’s move as exceeding his presidential authority. Judge Gleason was nominated by President Obama.