Editorials

Obama should ban offshore drilling on the West Coast, and fast

A humpback whale lifts its fluke out of the water as it dives near offshore oil drilling platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara. California wants President Barack Obama to extend West Coast bans into federal water and make them permanent.
A humpback whale lifts its fluke out of the water as it dives near offshore oil drilling platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara. California wants President Barack Obama to extend West Coast bans into federal water and make them permanent. The Associated Press

California leaders have made an extraordinary request in asking President Barack Obama to permanently ban offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters along the Pacific coastline. The president should do as they ask.

Though new drilling off the West Coast has been banned until 2022, and California – among the nation’s largest oil-producing states – hasn’t seen a new offshore platform for more than three decades, the hard-won balance the state has achieved between fossil fuel jobs and environmental protection probably will not be honored by Obama’s successor.

Rather, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled that it will be all fossil fuel, all the time, in his administration, no matter the dangers. Contrary to science, he insists that “nobody really knows” whether global warming is real. During his campaign, he tweeted, bizarrely, that the Chinese invented the concept to put U.S. manufacturing at a disadvantage.

His pick for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the Oklahoma attorney general suing the agency over Obama’s Clean Power regulations. His energy secretary choice is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who once said the Department of Energy should be abolished, and whose state is the nation’s biggest oil producer.

The hard-won balance California has achieved between fossil fuel jobs and environmental protection will not be honored by Obama’s incoming successor.

His secretary of state nominee is the head of Exxon Mobil. His advisers want NASA pulled off of the climate research that has quantified so much of the toll of global warming. And a member of his transition team sent out a questionnaire asking for names of Department of Energy employees and contractors who participated in U.N. climate talks or worked on the science underlying Obama administration efforts to curb carbon emissions – a demand that a Trump spokesman disavowed only after outraged scientists went public with fears that Team Trump was planning to halt crucial research and corrupt, bury or destroy federal climate data.

As a California Nobel laureate once put it, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Gov. Jerry Brown has resisted demonizing Big Oil, to environmentalists’ consternation, and he has been measured toward Trump, taking a wait-and-see attitude. His announcement to scientists this week that “we’re ready to fight” should be taken seriously.

In a letter Tuesday, Brown joined U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, the governors of Washington and Oregon, and the California state Senate in asking the president to use a 1953 federal law – the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act – to take West Coast drilling off the table. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon used the law to end drilling in parts of the Florida Keys in 1960 and off of Santa Barbara after the massive 1969 oil spill, and Obama used it in 2014 to protect part of Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Future presidents can’t repeal executive orders issued under the act.

Oil interests contend that if offshore drilling is banned here, oil companies will drill with less oversight in other water. But that will happen anyway.

A ban would preempt the possibility that the Pacific Coast will become a Trump administration hostage-in-waiting. And it will limit our contribution to the rising sea levels, tropical diseases, extreme weather, wildfires and record heat waves that will make the gathering political storm look like a day at the beach.

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