Mike McGuire bill seeks to close coastal drilling loophole

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Environmentalists are applauding North Coast Sen. Mike McGuire’s move to close an arcane loophole in a 21-year-old state law that could allow new offshore oil development, exposing the beaches and the economy of California’s 840-mile coast to what he called the “devastating impacts” of an offshore oil spill.

McGuire’s bill, titled the California Coastal Protection Act of 2015, had 10 co-authors — including the four other state legislators representing Sonoma County — and support from about two dozen environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Union of Concerned Scientists.

“New offshore oil leases are a real possibility in California,” said McGuire, a freshman Democrat from Healdsburg. The oil industry’s attention in recent years has focused on the Tranquillon Ridge off the Santa Barbara County coast, he said.

A devastating oil spill, on par with the 1969 spill in Santa Barbara, would jeopardize the coast’s $40 billion contribution to the state economy, including nearly 500,000 jobs, and could trigger a slight recession in California, he said.

“It’s unconscionable to think that there is a loophole that could lead to additional drilling in state water,” McGuire said. “It poses too great a risk.”

Citing that risk, the state lawmakers enacted the California Coastal Sanctuary Act of 1994, intent on banning oil and gas development in state waters, which extend out to 3 miles from shore. But a provision of that law — deemed a loophole by critics — allows new energy leases if officials determine that state oil or gas deposits are being “drained” by wells in adjacent federal waters.

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