Californians Gird for Battle, Offer Coast Drilling Bill

Times Staff Writer

Drawing the lines for battle with the Interior Department, 28 California congressmen and both senators Thursday introduced legislation designed to protect most of the state’s coast from oil and gas drilling.

The legislation, unveiled at a news conference, represents a modified version of the offshore drilling accord reached with Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel last July. Hodel later rejected the agreement, asserting that it would yield too little oil, and asked for new negotiations.

Sponsors of the legislation predicted success in the House but expressed less optimism about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled Senate.

California Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey) said the bill is designed to “prod the secretary--to make it clear to him that we’re not backing away from this issue, and if he is interested in pursuing it, this is the starting point.”

‘Legislative Offensive’

He declared: “What we’re starting here today is a legislative offensive on this issue.”


Like the preliminary agreement, the legislation opens 150 tracts off the state’s coast for drilling, while declaring the rest--almost 98% of the coast--off limits to exploration until the year 2000. However, the legislation would prohibit drilling off Newport Beach and Oceanside, sites that raised strong local opposition under the old plan, and redistribute some other tracts.

Of the 150 sites proposed, 101 would be located in the Eel River Basin in Humboldt County, 17 would be 20 miles offshore near Morro Bay, 23 would be on the outer edge of Santa Monica Bay, 4 would be off Long Beach and Seal Beach and 5 would be adjacent to Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside.

“The bill is not an effort to stop discussions with the Interior Department,” said Rep. Bill Lowery of San Diego, one of four Republican sponsors in the House. “Indeed, it may be a starting point. The bill can be amended.”

Complaint Voiced

In a prepared statement, however, Interior Department officials complained that the congressmen had chosen “confrontation rather than consensus” and vowed to “vigorously oppose” the bill on the grounds that it would provide too little oil and gas.

“It’s ludicrous,” Hodel said. “It doesn’t even come close to striking a balance or being in the national interest.”

Among the committees that must approve the legislation is the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where there was strong opposition to the earlier agreement between Hodel and the California congressmen. However, California Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston and Republican Sen. Pete Wilson will be pushing the bill there.

Cranston argued that those who are predicting the measure’s failure in the Senate are being premature.

“First, let Pete and me work that committee,” he said.

Panetta said that 123 of the 150 tracts named in the bill are described on Interior Department maps as “high-resource potential” sites.

Hodel, meanwhile, has drawn up a new list of 150 tracts that he said would tap about 35% of the energy potential in waters closed to drilling under a four-year moratorium. The Interior Department has refused to release Hodel’s list, saying it is not yet complete.

Sponsors of the legislation also are backing extension of the offshore moratorium for another year and hoping that both the legislation and the moratorium will give them more leverage in talks with Hodel.

In the redistribution of tracts, five that had been proposed for Oceanside were moved closer to Camp Pendleton. Of the five that had been proposed for Newport Beach, one was shifted to the Eel River Basin, another to outer Santa Monica Bay and three to the Santa Maria Basin.