Petro-Political Panic

by Nick Welsh

About 30 South Coast activists associated with the Santa Barbara Chapter of — including former assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson — gathered at the Chevron gas station by Hollister Avenue and Storke Road to protest the recent spike in gasoline prices and denounce the political influence oil companies exert through campaign cash. In the past 16 years, they charged, oil companies have donated $190 million to members of Congress, while reaping windfalls totaling $8 billion in just the past few years. (Democratic Congressmember Lois Capps, who represents coastal Santa Barbara, has not received any oil industry money; Republican Elton Gallegly, who represents the inland county, has received $68,000 in such donations.) The event was one of 250 protests countrywide, which were scheduled just one day before the House planned to vote on a controversial new proposal — pushed by California Congressmember Richard Pombo — to undermine the congressional and presidential moratoriums on new oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The bill would allow states to maintain a limited version of the existing moratoriums — extending only 100 miles offshore, as opposed to the current 300 — but only if both the governor and the legislature voted to do so. To entice political support from states like Florida — with a strong history of support for oil moratoriums — Pombo has agreed to an even split of oil revenues between individual states and the federal government. Similar efforts by Pombo lacked this provision and have failed. By opening up more of the coast to oil development, Pombo contended, American energy producers can tap up to 40 billion barrels of oil. Opponents — such as Capps — insist the coast should not be industrialized or subjected to additional risks of catastrophic oil spills or blowouts, such as the one that clobbered Santa Barbara in 1969. Capps’s spokesperson Emily Kryder expressed concern that the $69 billion in royalty revenues the federal government would lose to states would have to be offset by cuts elsewhere. Although Kryder said this latest version of the Pombo bill stands the best chance of congressional passage, there’s been little enthusiasm for such measures in the Senate, which would have the final say.

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