Gov. George Deukmejian and Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp threatened Monday to sue the federal government if it proceeds with plans next May that could lead to the leasing of tracts off the Southern California coast to oil and gas development.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel, Van de Kamp said both he and the governor view the Interior Department's tentative plans to solicit oil company interest in the area as "potentially a very serious situation."
Van de Kamp's letter, distributed by the governor's press office, added, "If you should proceed in violation of (the law), we are prepared to file suit to enforce the provisions of the statute."
While expressing a willingness to reach an agreement on oil and gas development issues in general, Van de Kamp warned, "Our ability to work with you will be seriously undermined if you should proceed with" the Southern California lease sale.
The two state officials contended that any leasing activity off the Southern California coast would be illegal since the boundaries of the proposed area are included in a five-year oil and gas development plan which will not be submitted to Congress for another year.
Several weeks ago, Hodel took the wraps off the proposed five-year plan. At the same time, he took the first steps to begin leasing off the Northern California coast. However, in the case of Northern California, the leasing boundaries were included in an existing five-year plan, which expires next year.
At that time, Hodel indicated that he would invite oil company interest in tracts off the Southern California coast in May. Several days later, however, Assistant Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles said in an interview with The Times that the Southern California lease sale, known as Lease Sale 95, may be delayed.
Van de Kamp's letter to Hodel is the latest exchange between the state and federal governments over oil and gas development on the outer continental shelf.
Hodel's Northern California Lease Sale 91 has aroused opposition from both conservationists, who are concerned about the environmental impact of offshore oil and gas development, and from oil companies, which have complained that only 4% of the tracts off Northern California are included in the proposed Lease Sale 91.