As U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez bemoaned the recent Santa Barbara oil spill at a stop in Long Beach on Monday, the Orange County congresswoman all but echoed the words of her chief Senate rival, state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.
"We love our seashores, and we want to keep them open, and we want to have them clean," Sanchez told reporters at the Belmont Pier.
Like Harris, a fellow Democrat who toured cleanup operations at Refugio State Park beach Thursday, Sanchez questioned whether Plains All American Pipeline had properly maintained the pipe that ruptured last month and spilled more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil north of Santa Barbara. Plains All American owns the pipe.
But the dueling beachfront appearances, four days apart, by two leading contenders for Democrat Barbara Boxer's Senate seat served to highlight a key advantage that Harris holds over Sanchez: her job as attorney general.
As California's top law enforcement official, Harris was able to use her visit to Santa Barbara County's scenic shoreline last week to vow swift prosecution of any criminal wrongdoing that her squads of lawyers and investigators might find in the oil spill.
Sanchez, though, is just one of 535 members of Congress, and her party's minority status in the House limits her influence.
She made the most of her less-powerful perch Monday in Long Beach, playing up bipartisanship as she stood alongside Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).
Their consensus on the importance of preventing coastline oil spills was clear, but they did not appear to agree on specific solutions.
Sanchez said she would look into what the federal government can do to prevent oil spills and tighten oversight of the industry's accident prevention practices.
"I'm here to pledge to work with my colleagues in the Congress as we find solutions to this," she said.
Sanchez said she was especially concerned about the inability of local jurisdictions to regulate the safety of oil pipelines that cross their territory.
"Whether it requires legislation, I don't know at this point," she said. "But I do know this: It requires a lot more collaboration, and that is what we are pledging to do here today."
Rohrabacher said he planned to resume efforts to drum up support in Congress for oil cleanup technologies like those championed by actor Kevin Costner. A cleanup company should be able to collect spilled oil and sell it, the congressman said.
Sanchez was skeptical. "In the first few hours," she said, "we want to make sure we have the professionals out there cleaning up as quickly as possible, because that's in particular when it affects our wildlife out there."