Political Reaction to Refugio Oil Spill Continues

Questions Raised About Information, Technology, and Transparency

Rep. Lois Capps spoke with reporters outside the Refugio Unified Command about her pipeline safety amendment.
Paul Wellman

Concern on the part of elected officials continues to flow more than two weeks after the Refugio Oil Spill. Fresh from the pipeline excavation site — her second visit —Representative Lois Capps spoke with reporters about her recent energy amendment in the aftermath of the Refugio oil spill outside the old Decker’s building and the new Unified Command headquarters.

Responding to a TV reporter who was perturbed she was unable to gain access to the excavation site earlier that day, Capps expressed sympathy and also frustration about ongoing concerns over media access. “The first way to gain the trust of the people is to let them see,” Capps said.

Two days earlier, just before midnight, she offered an amendment to a bill before the Congress that would strengthen federal regulations by requiring automatic shutoff valves on new pipelines. That bipartisan bill passed out of the House. Capps pushed a second amendment to fund the federal oversight agency by $27 million that failed on a party-line vote.

In the past two weeks, Capps, as well as Senators Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Edward Markey, demanded answers about the safety of the pipeline from the federal oversight agency known as PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), a contentious issue that dates back more than a decade.

When asked when she expected to get a response from PHMSA about her many questions, Capps said, “We are going to ride them until we get answers … The goals are not satisfied.” Capps was also taken aback by the fact that a new section of pipeline has already been installed to replace the broken one. “What is this — business as usual?” she asked.

On Thursday, Capps and the three senators teamed up and sent a similar letter directly to Plains All American Pipeline CEO Greg Armstrong, asking numerous questions about the pipeline’s shutoff and spill detection systems. Specifically, they noted, the recent findings found that the pipeline that ruptured showed signs of extensive corrosion. Also, based on the timeline provided by Plains about the events of May 19, they asked that Plains immediately explain its actions.

Since the spill, anti-oil drilling advocates have picked up steam. A state bill co-authored by Senators Hannah-Beth Jackson and Mike McGuire — introduced prior to the spill — to prohibit drilling in the area known as Tranquillon Ridge passed off the Senate floor in a 21-13 vote this week. It now heads to the Assembly.

Last year, Jackson introduced an identical bill that stalled in the Assembly after “significant opposition from the oil industry,” according to her office. Last week, Jackson also proposed three measures related to the spill. Assemblymember Das Williams also introduced a bill last week that would require oil companies to install automatic shutoff equipment on any pipeline traversing environmentally sensitive areas.

Camping reservations at Refugio and El Capitan state beaches have been canceled until June 25.


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