The fight for environmental justice has been a fast-paced one of late, with the continued threats and signed executive orders designed to dismantle eco-protections in the name of expanding oil operations and exploration. This ramping-up of the oil industry comes despite the U.S. now being a major exporter of oil all over the world, which came after Congress lifted a 40-year ban in December 2015, meaning that we are clearly on the road to oil independence as is. But state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is no newbie to this environmental protection arena and is set on protecting our California coast, specifically the Santa Barbara Channel.
On Friday, April 28, she introduced an amendment to an updated or “engrossed” version of Senate Bill 188, that would prohibit the State Lands Commission from approving any new leases in state waters for the building of new pipelines or other infrastructure needed for new or expanded oil and gas development, such as piers and wharves. This amendment came the same day that President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directing the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a five-year plan by which then President Barack Obama banned drilling in parts of the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.
Also, on Wednesday, April 26, Trump signed an order to review national monuments designated since 1996, which includes the Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County (established by President Bill Clinton in 2001), along with several dozen other national monuments comprising millions of acres of federal public lands and waters. Zinke said that he would review to see how the protection of these lands resulted in job loss in some areas “like farming, ranching, timber harvest, mining, oil and gas exploration, fishing and motorized recreation.” The Carrizo Plain National Monument is our cover feature story this week.
While environmental protection advocates scramble to do what they can to preserve the limited natural resources we have left, a rather bizarre move was made by Congress in the last week: Lawmakers passed a $1.1 trillion budget to keep the government functioning until fall, a budget that included a mere 1 percent —or $81 million — cut, with no staff reductions to the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump had targeted for cuts of $247 million. Plus, research divisions within the Department of Energy received increases in funding, such as the advanced research program that received an additional $15 million. Trump had called for slashing funding or eliminating these programs.
Beyond the bizarre, there is some good news, however. It seems that regardless of laws, our capitalist society does eventually push certain undesirable elements to their brink, such as Venoco LLC, which filed bankruptcy in mid-April, quitclaiming its leases in the South Ellwood Field and effectively transferring the Goleta Beach Pier and Platform Holly leases to the State Lands Commission, closing down Platform Holly and ending oil and gas production in this location. Platform Holly is expected to be decommissioned and removed from the Santa Barbara Channel in the next three years, a major victory for the Channel that has already seen enough oil spilled.
For social and environmental activists everywhere, it’s a troubling time. But surely our heightened awareness and concern is not in vain. Eventually, progress toward a cleaner and healthier future will surely win.