Representative Lois Capps worries that a new federal bill, if passed, would take power away from state Air Pollution Control Districts. Above, a smoggy boat leaves the dock by the seal rookery in Carpinteria.
Paul Wellman (file)

According to Santa Barbara County staff, emissions from vessels traveling through the Santa Barbara Channel currently account for the lion’s share (more than 40 percent, to be exact) of our local smog pollution. However, should a bit of controversial oil-drilling legislation that was approved this week in the House of Representatives become a reality, that already less-than-ideal situation seems certain to worsen.

“The so-called Jobs and Energy Permitting Act is a real disaster for California’s air quality,” explained Congressmember Lois Capps in the wake of Thursday’s vote. “We know the passage of this legislation will take away the ability of our state and local air district to continue implementing common sense rules governing the amount of pollution arising from offshore drilling. That will result in dirtier air and increased hazards to the well-being of our community.”

The legislations seeks, among other things, to speed up the permitting process for certain offshore drilling operations by way of an amendment to the Clean Air Act. For proponents, the maneuver is a relatively benign one meant specifically to help alleviate certain stumbling blocks facing oil drilling operations in Alaska.

However, the fear of critics like Capps and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is that certain provisions in the bill would not only increase the amount of allowable pollution associated with the vessels coming and going from oil rigs, but would also effectively undo the longstanding California waiver that allows state air quality districts the authority to impose beefier rules and regulations on such vessels. S.B. supervisors, acting at the behest of our Air Pollution Control District (APCD), recently sent a letter in which they went on the record, much like the California Air Resources board did, as being opposed to the bill.

The legislation also looks to allow oil companies to measure their pollution output levels from onshore sites rather than on-water, point-of-source locations, while also shortening the period of time that local APCDs would have to approve or deny permits for offshore operations.

The bill, HR 2021, was approved by a 253 to 166 vote. An amendment, introduced by Capps and designed to help preserve the California waiver, was defeated by an essentially party-line vote of 180 to 242.

The Energy Permitting Act now moves on to the Senate where it is expected to meet continued opposition.


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