President Clinton decided Thursday to extend a ban on new oil and gas drilling off the Pacific coast until at least 2005 but he rejected pleas from Gov. Pete Wilson and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to make the ban permanent, officials said.
Aides said Clinton will announce his action today at a national conference on oceans in Monterey. The president's appearance at the meeting will kick off a three-day visit to California and Oregon that also includes Democratic Party fund-raising dinners in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Clinton's executive order on oil and gas drilling will extend a ban imposed by President George Bush that is due to expire in two years. The order prohibits new oil and gas leases in the federally administered waters between three and 200 miles off the coast. Waters inside the three-mile limit are managed by the state, which already bans drilling.
Wilson, Boxer and environmental groups had pressed for a permanent ban on new drilling but White House officials said Clinton turned down that idea.
They said that Clinton had resolved to settle on an extension of at least five years, but refused to say what his final decision would be.
The order would not affect the 28 existing oil platforms off Santa Barbara, Ventura and Long Beach, one official said.
The issue may figure into the race for governor: Democrat Gray Davis has supported a permanent ban but Republican Dan Lungren has opposed it, arguing that national security might require more drilling some day.
Lungren repeated that position this week and added that oil drilling in California waters has produced almost $1 billion in royalties for the state treasury.
However, Lungren said, "I do not see any possibility of the moratorium being lifted."
Wilson surprised White House officials Wednesday by sending Clinton a four-page letter calling for a permanent ban. "With the millennium just around the corner, the time has come to settle the debate once and for all," the governor wrote.
Wilson, who has long opposed new offshore drilling, told Lungren in advance about his letter--a move that appeared to give the attorney general an opportunity to change his own position gracefully. But Lungren decided to stick with his view.
Lungren spokeswoman Sara Brown said that she saw no significant conflict between the two Republican leaders on the issue. "The attorney general feels that his position is consistent with the governor's," she said.
Boxer, who has fought against offshore drilling since her days on the Marin County Board of Supervisors in the 1970s, has been hounding Clinton for action for months, an aide said.
She raised the issue at the First Family's Thanksgiving dinner at Camp David in November, where she was a guest because her daughter is married to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother.
Knowing that Clinton was likely to speak on the issue in Monterey, she buttonholed the president twice in the last week to urge a permanent ban.
"Given the fact that President Bush imposed a 10-year moratorium, Clinton can hardly do less," a Boxer aide said.
Vice President Al Gore opened the National Ocean Conference at Monterey's Naval Postgraduate Center on Thursday with a speech on a wind-swept dock overlooking a colony of loudly barking sea lions.
Gore announced $36 million in ocean protection and exploration projects, including $12 million to build underwater observatories to help scientists find new sources of minerals and pharmaceuticals, and a $6-million program to help preserve coastal reefs in 18 areas from Hawaii and Guam to Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys.
Most of the new initiatives will require congressional approval, aides said.