Why we should be worried about California’s coast

Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach in May 2015 after the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25 years.
Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach in May 2015 after the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25 years. Associated Press file

To preserve his environmental legacy, President Barack Obama exercised his executive authority to permanently ban new offshore drilling in federal waters off the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic Ocean. This follows Gov. Jerry Brown’s request that Obama permanently ban new oil and gas drilling off California’s coast.

Brown’s appeal, along with a similar one by the State Lands and Coastal Commissions, reflects a critical lesson we have learned since shifting toward a clean-energy future. Our 1,100-mile coastline is more than just a pretty backdrop; it’s an economic powerhouse supporting a $44 billion economy and employing 500,000 people.

That is why President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominations have our state on edge. His choices of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana as secretary of the Interior and Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma to lead the Environmental Protection Agency promise to fulfill his campaign threats to increase America’s dependence on fossil fuels and roll back regulations on oil drilling, mining and fracking on public lands.

But California will not be turned back toward an outdated reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels despite big oil companies longing to get their hands on our state.

Our coast is something we share across geographic and demographic divides. That is not an accident. California has worked hard to provide coastal access to all. Our constitution guarantees beach access, a commitment underscored by the landmark Coastal Act. For 50 years, Democrats and Republicans have worked together to ensure residents and visitors will have a clean, thriving coast for generations to come. The Legislature has created strong agencies and equipped them with the staffing and resources necessary.

We have seen how devastating an oil spill can be, including the 1969 Santa Barbara disaster and the more recent Cosco Busan and Refugio oil spills. The toxic legacy of these disasters lives on well beyond the news cycle. Just ask Bay Area herring fishermen, who saw catches dwindle for years, or kayak and surf operators whose busiest weekend of the year was ruined when the Plains All American pipeline burst last year.

Every day, California proves to the world that economic growth and environmental health go hand in hand. Our clean-energy sector is booming, creating jobs and decreasing pollution in communities suffering too long from poor air quality. We have rejected more offshore drilling and power plants, and embraced solar energy and efficiency instead. California is on track to generate half its electricity from homegrown clean energy by 2030, and we can get to 100 percent by 2040.

Californians are as steadfast in our commitment to clean energy as we are about coastal protection. As we look ahead to the next four years, it will be more important than ever to have the right guardians in state agencies, especially the Coastal Commission. We stand ready to defend what is ours.

John Chiang is California state treasurer. He can be contacted at