Collusion with Russia. Trade wars. Stormy Daniels. Let’s be honest, these stories sound much sexier than offshore oil drilling. And therein lies the problem.
With all the distractions and scandals coming out of the White House, vital issues are being overshadowed. While our heads are turned one way, the Trump administration is implementing policy that will have dire consequences for the environment: Offshore oil drilling is a perfect example.
On January 4 of this year, the Trump administration proposed to open for exploration the largest expanse of the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas reserves, including waters off the coast of California, ever offered to global energy companies. This proposal, now undergoing an accelerated and limited public review process, would allow the first new federal lease sales off California since 1984.
Santa Barbara is known globally as a lush oasis, where tourists come to lounge on our beaches and swim in our surf. Santa Barbara also has a decades-long commitment to protecting the environment. We as citizens may complain and bemoan President Trump’s agenda all day long, but it’s our elected officials who have much of the power to effect change on behalf of the people of Santa Barbara. To find out more about this, I spoke to local and state elected officials to get their take on Trump’s proposal, and to find out what Santa Barbara can do to combat the irresponsible and dangerous environmental policies that are being pushed by the Trump administration.
According to Santa Barbara’s Mayor Cathy Murillo, who is an advocate for protecting the central coast’s natural assets: “We’ve watched the Trump administration propose and carry out all manner of laws and regulations that are contrary to the values of Californians. We need to stand our ground against increased pressure from the federal government,” said Murillo. “This issue is a concern that crosses political lines.”
Santa Barbara City Councilmember and County Supervisor elect Gregg Hart agrees with Mayor Murillo that the expansion of offshore oil drilling will affect Santa Barbara negatively: “Clean energy is blossoming, and climate change is taking off. Hopefully this move by the Trump administration is just politics being used to appease his base and won’t actually happen.” Hart also said, “The economic impact of an oil spill similar to the one in 2015 is far more devastating to our local community than the small economic gain from drilling offshore.”
One elected official took her opposition to this issue a step further. California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, commonly referred to as “Action Jackson,” is an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s environmental record. She passionately protects her district from dangerous federal policies. Senator Jackson’s initial reaction to the expansion of offshore oil drilling was “disgust,” and she decided to take a stand. In May 2017, Senator Jackson introduced SB 188, which would have ensured that pipelines and infrastructure that supports any new federal oil development cannot be built in California waters. SB 188 would have also prohibited any new lease or renewal that authorizes new or additional exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas on state lands.
Disappointingly, SB 188 didn’t make it out of committee. However, Senator Jackson didn’t take this lying down. She waited for a time to strategically reintroduce it as SB 834, and President Trump’s January 4 announcement was the perfect opportunity. The bill has since passed the Senate and has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.
Political opponents may see SB 834 as merely a roadblock to the federal government’s plans. While it is true that oil companies are still able to drill offshore, they need California’s infrastructure to transport the oil from the drill-site to land. It’s a lot harder to go around California than to go through it, and Senator Jackson’s bill would effectively block the oil from coming through our state. As Senator Jackson quoted from Otto von Bismarck, “Politics is the art of the possible, not the art of the perfect.” In the era of Trump, there are few solutions that are perfect. Everyone needs to do all they can to stop Trump’s destructive policies if we want to safeguard our environment.
So, what can we, the citizens of Santa Barbara, do to protect our city from Trump’s harmful environmental policies? According to Senator Jackson, “We’re trying to reverse a trend and a dependence on oil that’s embedded in our culture.” Her solution? Young people have to vote. Nothing can get done if people don’t make their voices heard in the midterm elections, as well as in local and state elections. “Last year was the year of disruption; this year is the year of consequences.” As Santa Barbarians, Californians, and Americans, we must come together to send a very clear message to the Trump administration: Keep your dirty, harmful offshore oil drilling away from Santa Barbara.
Sophie Fox is studying political science at UCSB and is interning for Congressmember Salud Carbajal in Washington, D.C., this summer.