Congress Leaders Pledge Fight to Protect Coastline

Times Staff Writer

Key congressional leaders said Tuesday that they will try to protect the Orange County coastline in any legislative efforts to resurrect an aborted compromise to open 150 oil-lease tracts off California.

After Tuesday’s collapse of a tentative accord between members of the state’s congressional delegation and Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel, members of a coalition of Orange County coastal cities were optimistic that they would be spared drilling on a proposed 54 square miles of ocean floor off their shores.

Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), and Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) told coastal representatives that they would favor moving six oil-drilling sites now proposed off Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach elsewhere. They also supported a swap of five tracts off Oceanside to the less-populated Camp Pendleton area in northern San Diego County.

“We would like to see changes with Camp Pendleton and Newport Beach, and perhaps some other minor adjustments in the plan,” Cranston said during an acrimonious news conference following Hodel’s meeting with the California delegation Tuesday.

When asked if Orange County’s coast would be protected, Wilson told Laguna Beach Councilman Robert Gentry: “Yes, it will.”


Cranston legislative assistant Hal Gross said that four other congressional representatives, including Panetta, suggested the same “minor changes” during the closed meeting with Hodel. Gross said that no decision has been made on where the six Orange County tracts would be moved, but private negotiations have been continuing with a congressman from a coastal district elsewhere as a means of saving the compromise.

“If we can get that agreement through legislatively, Orange County, I’m convinced, is going to be protected,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bobbie Minkin said. “I think it means that Orange County isn’t going to have any drilling at all.”

Coalition representatives vowed to seek support for such legislation to impose the deal on Hodel and, in the interim, a renewal of a moratorium on offshore oil leasing.

But Reps. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) and Dan Lungren (R-Long Beach), both of whom favor opening more areas to offshore drilling, raised doubts that any legislative proposal of the Democratic majority would survive a vote on the House floor.

The original agreement, unveiled July 16 after lengthy closed-door negotiations, would have opened for oil exploration 150 nine-square-mile tracts of ocean floor--99 off Northern California; 14 off Santa Maria; 22 in the outer Santa Monica Bay; four off Long Beach; six off Orange County, and five off Oceanside.

Strong Oil Industry Objections

Another 6,310 tracts--nearly 98% of the state’s coast--would have been protected for 15 years.

The oil industry has strongly objected to the plan, arguing that less than 10% of the proposed tracts had potential for oil discovery.

The cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente, and Huntington Beach--which has major onshore oil rigs and several offshore platforms operating off its coastline--passed resolutions favoring the original agreement, provided Orange County’s tracts were eliminated. The Orange County Board of Supervisors, Santa Ana, Irvine and the state Democratic Central Committee have passed similar resolutions.

Panetta said that a majority of 32 of the 45 California congressmen would have supported the agreement with the “minor adjustments” off Orange and San Diego counties. But Hodel, who has a new list of 150 tracts with greater industry potential, insisted that more sweeping changes are needed.

Collapse of Negotiations

With the collapse of negotiations, Cranston and others have vowed to seek legislation to implement the terms of the original compromise with the “minor adjustments” for Orange and San Diego counties.

“Now that they have recognized the sensitivity of the Orange County coast, we can now shift our efforts to make sure the entire plan stays in place,” Minkin said.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors has split on its opposition to offshore oil drilling. Part II, Page 1.