Dignitaries, Watchdogs Remember Refugio

They Speak to Next Steps in Big Oil Regulation, Renewable Energy

The one year anniversary of the Refugio Oil Spill
Photo Credit: Paul Wellman

One year after the infamous Refugio Oil Spill, a dozen elected officials and environmental watchdog groups gathered on the rocky beach to commemorate a year spent campaigning for stricter pipeline safety regulations, as well as strengthening renewable energy on the South Coast.

Each dignitary spoke on their legislative efforts to regulate oil industry giants Venoco and Plains All American Pipeline. Their speeches were peppered with personal connections to the Gaviota Coast.

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, represented Thursday morning by spokesperson James Joyce III, called the May 19 spill, “the worst birthday present I have ever received.”

Since the spill, Jackson authored successful senate bills 295 and 414, which ensure the State Fire Marshal inspects pipelines annually and streamlines the government’s response to oil spills. “As long as we rely on oil, no law, regulation, or inspection schedule will fully safeguard against the next spill,” she cautioned. “The voice for a future free of fossil fuel needs to grow louder and more insistent.”

Representing Congressmember Lois Capps, Wendy Motta recalled the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill. She reminded attendees of the “millions of miles of pipelines transporting oil and gas throughout our country,” as well as Cappss’ work on the Pipeline Safety Act, federal pipeline safety legislation which last month passed out of the Energy and Commerce Commission.

Assemblymember Das Williams pointed to the law he authored requiring coastal pipelines be equipped with automatic shut-off technology. “The fines and accountability are too low,” he told reporters of the four felony and 42 misdemeanor criminal charges filed this week by Santa Barbara County’s grand jury against Plains. Motta stated the civil cases against Plains are just as important as the criminal case.

Chiefs of five local watchdog agencies — the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), Get Oil Out!, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, the Community Environmental Council (CEC), and the Sierra Club’s Los Padres chapter — marked Refugio’s one year anniversary by rallying around the next steps to regulating big oil companies and relying less on fossil fuels.

The Sierra Club’s Katie Davis mentioned Venoco’s plans to expand its oil field three miles out from Platform Holly and to re-open its Ellwood Onshore Facility, moves the Sierra Club is campaigning against.

The CEC called on the county to finance and develop a Community Choice Energy program, which would allow area residents to choose where they get their energy (and opens the option of entirely locally-generated, clean sources).

Linda Krop, Chief Counsel of the EDC, said the organization is pushing California to assume legal oversight for Plains’ Line 901 if it reopens in the days to come.

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