Bills would boost oil spill response

A Bureau of Land Management official walks past rocks covered in oil at Refugio State Beach after a May 19 pipeline spill.
A Bureau of Land Management official walks past rocks covered in oil at Refugio State Beach after a May 19 pipeline spill. Associated Press file

California’s beaches are a world-class playground, but make no mistake: They also work hard. Our ocean powers a $40 billion outdoor recreation industry that is second to none. There’s a reason California is home to the world’s surf industry.

Part of what makes our ocean economy so strong is our state’s investment in the nation’s first statewide network of marine protected areas. Today, about 30 percent of the coastline and 16 percent of state waters are protected, including special places such as La Jolla, Crystal Cove and Point Reyes.

In May, at least 140,000 gallons of crude oil spoiled one of the last remaining stretches of undeveloped coastline in California. The Plains All American pipeline disaster that struck the Gaviota Coast, home to Refugio State Beach and the protected Naples Marine Conservation Area, was just a taste of the devastation oil can cause to marine life and businesses that depend on our ocean. It could not have come at a worse time for Santa Barbara surf shops, kayak outfits, hotels and restaurants. Business came to a standstill just before Memorial Day weekend, when the Santa Barbara area typically draws 25,000 daily visitors that spend $4 million.

Fortunately, the Legislature stepped up to make the Santa Barbara coast safer from such spills. Thanks to the efforts of coastal advocates and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblyman Das Williams, three bills – Senate Bills 295 and 414 and Assembly Bill 864 – now sit on the governor’s desk. These bills would improve oil-pipeline safety, preparedness and response by requiring regular inspections, better technology including automated shutoffs, and more effective oil-spill response.

Earlier in the session, Sen. Mike McGuire introduced Senate Bill 788 to stop new slant oil drilling next to the Vandenberg Marine Reserve, a haven for whales, lobsters and hundreds of species of fish. More than 145 members of our Surf Industry Manufacturers Association supported the bill, along with dozens of seafood companies, fishermen, hotel and restaurant operators and other California businesses. But the bill was aggressively opposed by the oil industry and ultimately stalled in committee.

The oil industry has spent millions to fight common-sense safeguards and contributed thousands to moderate members on the committee that ultimately killed SB 788. Legislators also held SB 243, a measure that would have protected our groundwater supplies from oil contamination. The successful efforts of the oil lobby to gut our flagship climate-change bill, SB 350, have been widely reported.

While we must continue to fight against new offshore oil projects, common-sense regulatory measures to protect the coast from spills deserve the governor’s signature. We need to fight for these policies and the local businesses and natural resources that provide the backbone for California’s way of life.

Paul Naude is CEO of Vissla and environmental board chairman of the Surf Industry Manufacturer’s Association.