West Coast governors urged the federal government Tuesday to keep new oil drilling rigs out of their waters and to spend more money on programs to restore the health of the Pacific Ocean.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, joined with Democratic Govs. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Chris Gregoire of Washington to reaffirm their opposition to opening undersea oil fields to new drilling, as part of an elaborate action plan for preserving coastal waters.
The 116-page document outlines ambitious goals for cleaning up coastal waters and beaches, restoring fisheries, preparing for rising sea levels and developing projects that harness energy from waves and tides, among other topics.
“We are united ecologically, and now we are also united politically with Democrats and Republicans here working together and with one powerful voice,” said Schwarzenegger, flanked by images of the two other governors beamed in via satellite.
“A healthy Pacific is vital to each of our states,” Schwarzenegger said. “Our fishermen depend on it for their livelihood. The coastal cities and towns depend on it for recreation and for tourism. And we all enjoy its calming beauty.”
The governors’ plan, nearly two years in the making, was born of frustration with the federal government’s failure to follow the advice of two national commissions that detailed how to address such threats as over-fishing, coastal development and polluted runoff.
The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, whose members delivered dire reports in 2003 and 2004 and have since slapped federal officials with Cs and Ds on annual report cards on their progress, lauded the West Coast governors for filling what it considers a vacuum of leadership.
“Given the hardships faced by regional fisheries, along with growing threats from climate change and pollution, the time is now for full-throttle execution of the governors’ directives,” said Leon Panetta, co-chairman of the initiative.
The governors’ plan calls for setting up a national ocean trust fund to support programs, including those to reduce runoff that has fed harmful algal blooms in coastal waters and littered beaches with garbage. It also calls for “opposing all new offshore oil and gas leasing, development and production” because they increase the risk of spills.
That pledge put West Coast leaders in direct opposition to President Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who have pushed recently to open new undersea fields to drilling.
Kulongoski suggested “harnessing the energy of waves and tides along the West Coast” as a clean alternative energy that has shown some promise during trials off Oregon.
Warner Chabot, a vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, said he was heartened by timelines for action in the governors’ plan but warned that any success would depend on funding and the governors’ vigilance.
“It’s appropriate for them to act because the states have jurisdiction over the first three miles of the coast,” he said. “The states have the most to gain financially and the most to lose.”
Weiss reported from Los Angeles and Rothfeld from Sacramento.