A Line In the Sand

Politicians Defend Moratorium on Oil Drilling

by Ethan Stewart

Flanked by a horizon dotted with oil rigs and a parking lot choked with SUVs, an impressive lineup of local, state, and federal politicians made a show of unity against offshore oil drilling last Sunday afternoon. Congresswoman Lois Capps, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Assemblymember Pedro Nava, Mayor Marty Blum, and City Councilmembers Das Williams and Helene Schneider gathered at the Mesa’s Shoreline Park to voice their opposition to the proposed federal Energy Security Act, which would end a 25-year moratorium on oil drilling along the California coast. Invoking a political and “spiritual” mandate, Boxer gestured toward the coastline and remarked, “California’s coast is a gift to mankind … an asset we need to protect.”

The speakers — including Cameron Benson from the Environmental Defense Center  — spoke of our country’s “addiction to oil,” and questioned the logic behind the Republican-backed legislation that looks to reopen both the East and West coasts for oil exploration. Capps pointed out that “drilling is the slowest, dirtiest, most expensive way to solve the problem.” With 37 active leases in the Santa Barbara Channel not currently being drilled, a proposal for a near-shore operation in Carpinteria, and about a half dozen other proposals along the county’s coastal boundaries, Santa Barbara stands to see some serious changes should the ban be lifted. Recalling the devastating 1969 oil spill in local waters, Capps warned ominously, “It is not a matter of if there is going to be an accident. It is a matter of when.” Capps and Boxer concurred that the bill is “the most serious challenge we’ve had” to the moratorium since it was first enacted. Boxer expressed her “real fear that this thing will be pushed through the Senate during a lame-duck session” following this November’s election.

All politicians and activists present stressed their belief that better solutions exist. Boxer in particular touted the virtues of wind and solar power, and challenged government agencies to purchase more energy-efficient vehicles instead of the usual gas guzzlers which, she said, average about 21 miles to the gallon. She pointed to Brazil as a prime example of energy independence, citing that nation’s recent initiative to use sugar cane to create ethanol. “We have an addiction and the Republicans keep feeding the habit … The technology is there to break it,” insisted the senator.

Putting that mindset into action, the Community Environmental Council held a stakeholders’ meeting on wind power last week, painting a fairly hopeful picture of how wind turbines could impact the South Coast. According to data presented at the meeting, Santa Barbara County averages 5,549 gigawatt-hours of electricity consumption a year. Hypothetical wind farms using 300-foot-tall turbines sited in the windiest regions of the northern Channel Islands could generate up to 80,000 gigawatt-hours of energy per year — roughly a quarter of the entire state’s average yearly consumption. Ironically, many of the ideal sites for wind farms — including the Channel Islands, the Gaviota Coast, and Vandenberg Air Force Base — are all areas fiercely protected from development by environmental groups.

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