Gulf oil spill: More calls for moratorium on offshore drilling

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In a rapid legislative response to the Gulf Coast spill, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are seeking to reinstitute a ban on new drilling off the West Coast and fast-track legislation to raise oil company liability for spills.

Meanwhile, no fewer than five congressional committees are gearing up for investigative hearings.


‘Enough is enough,’ Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) declared in a letter to House colleagues seeking support for a bill introduced Wednesday to permanently ban new energy exploration off California, Oregon and Washington state.

“The ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd has insisted for years that oil drilling from offshore platforms is safe and clean. The millions of Americans who live along the Gulf Coast would now beg to differ,” Garamendi said. “If a similar calamity occurred in federal waters in Southern California, we would see an oil slick spanning the coast from Long Beach to Santa Barbara.’’

Garamendi quickly gained 19 fellow West-Coast Democrats as co-sponsors for the bill. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said that she also supports the measure, which should boost its prospects.

But Lisa Miller, a spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called Garamendi’s bill “astute politics just now, but it won’t be a viable energy policy until cars run on something other than gasoline or everybody rides bicycles to work.”

New drilling had been prohibited in much of the nation’s coastal waters since the 1980s, largely in response to the devastating 1969 spill off Santa Barbara. Congress let the ban lapse in late 2008 as high gasoline prices became a hot political issue.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed opening drilling in the Tranquillon Ridge area as a way to fight looming budget gaps, but this week backed away from the proposal, citing the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Obama excluded the West Coast from his plans for new coastal drilling, but Garamendi said the ban should be written into law.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, expressed support for a permanent ban on new drilling off the California coast and called its prospects for passage ‘pretty good.’

Legislation also has been introduced to prevent new offshore drilling that has been proposed in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska until the cause of the rig blowout is known.

-- Richard Simon

Photos: Oil spill spreads in the Gulf of Mexico