Galvanized by O.C. spill, local lawmakers seek federal help to end drilling off California coast

A boat from Marine Spill Response Corp. attempts on Monday to contain an oil spill in Newport Beach.
The Ocean Guardian, a boat from Marine Spill Response Corp., on Monday drives along the shoreline at 28th to contain an oil spill in Newport Beach that spread down the coast from Huntington Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Following the oil spill reported Saturday off Huntington Beach, a contingent of Orange County elected officials are calling on members of Congress to not only ban new offshore drilling off California’s coastline but end all such operations in federal waters.

In a letter signed Thursday by state Sens. Dave Min (D-Irvine) and Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) — as well as the entire Laguna Beach City Council and five Huntington Beach council members — lawmakers appealed to U.S. House and Senate members who represent the affected areas.

“We urge you, as Orange County’s Congressional delegation, to propose and champion legislation that would end ALL offshore drilling, including drilling performed under current leases, in federal waters near the California coast,” the letter reads.

The call for a widespread moratorium of such practices has been growing in volume as the U.S. Coast Guard and California Fish and Wildlife head efforts to clean contaminated beaches and rescue affected species.

West Coast Environmental Solutions workers remove oil-laden sand Monday at the mouth of the Santa Ana River, October 4, 2021.
West Coast Environmental Solutions workers remove oil-laden sand Monday at the mouth of the Santa Ana River. Orange County lawmakers are urging Congress to ban offshore drilling in federal waters.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“While we are in the early stages of this spill, our community is bracing for potentially devastating impacts to wildlife, public health, the environment and local and regional economies,” the letter continued. “The economic impacts of the Orange County oil spill are likely to be significant and last for some time. The economic benefits of offshore drilling are miniscule by comparison.”

As citizen volunteers mobilize along the coastline, legislators already fighting offshore drilling have been amassing interest among area wildlife and preservation organizations as well as environmentally minded residents to lead a grassroots shift from fossil fuels toward a clean energy future.

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie Norris (D-Laguna Beach) held a virtual media briefing Thursday during which she described recent events as “our worst fears come to life.”

“We all recognize that this disaster is a call to action,” she said. “It is our job to ensure that a disaster like this one does not occur again on our watch — it is past time to end offshore drilling along our treasured coast.”

What looks like crude oil covers the nape and feet of a Western gull at Huntington State Beach on Sunday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Those assembled urged support for legislative efforts already proposing such curtailments.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) in May introduced the American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act, which would prohibit any new leasing for the exploration, development or production of oil and natural gas along Southern California’s coast.

That same month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act to permanently ban offshore drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington.

Min said in Thursday’s briefing it would be crucial to make sure local waters are never “terrorized” again by such a disaster.

“The only way to do that is by ending all oil drilling along California’s coastline,” he said.

Bob Whalen, mayor of Laguna Beach, where oil balls began washing onshore Monday in Crescent Bay and Shaw’s Cove called this week’s spill a galvanizing moment.

“We need to make sure we’re really committed to change,” Whalen said at Thursday’s briefing. “The cleanup effort right now is a sprint were all engaged in, but the true solutions we seek are going to require us to run a marathon.”

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