After a six-hour hearing in Santa Barbara this afternoon, the California State Lands Commission voted down a potentially historic deal between Plains Exploration and Production (PXP) oil company and a significant cadre of Santa Barbara environmental leaders that would have granted new oil drilling permits within California state waters for the first time in 40 years. The deal would have granted PXP drilling abilities at the Tranquillion Ridge offshore of Vandenberg Air Force Base in exchange for a mandatory shutdown date of 2022, thousands of acres of permanently protected onshore lands, approximately $350 million of tax revenues for Santa Barbara County, and at least $2 billion for the State of California. It was defeated, however, by a 2-1 vote, with Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi and State Controller John Chiang voting against the plan and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s representative, Tom Sheehy, the lone supporter. The State Lands Commission vote cannot be appealed.
The hearing, which was held on the second floor of the Hotel Miramonte, provided a who’s-who of the Santa Barbara environmental and political landscape. Nearly all who spoke from Santa Barbara - including County Supervisors Salud Carbajal, Janet Wolfe, and Doreen Farr, and enviromental heavyweights like the the Environmental Defense Center’s Linda Krop and Carpinteria’s Vera Benson - all spoke in favor of the now-dead deal. For them, getting the rewards of much needed cash flow, an actual termination date for offshore oil drilling, the guaranteed closure of two onshore oil facilities within the county, and the thousands of aforementioned permanently preserved acres were worth 15 years of increased offshore oil drilling activity.
Unfortunately for them, the majority of the three-member commission was not similarly inclined. Garamendi, echoing the opinions of the State Lands Commission’s staff, took the plan to task for promising public benefits, specifically the sunset date, that were, in his opinion, both “unachievable and unenforceable,” thus nullifying an real motivation to lift the offshore ban. Furthermore, Garamendi said he was worried that such a “precedent-setting” approval would “send a message that would be heard across America” that would be used by the “drill, baby, drill” crowd to push a pro-oil agenda from California to the country’s capitol in Washington, D.C. Before casting his decisive vote, the lieutenant governor explained, “I am not about to sell the California birthright of the most beautiful coastline in the world for an immediate meal.”
Nick Welsh will provide a full report on today’s historic stand against offshore oil drilling this weekend at independent.com.