I came into the world the year the modern environmental movement was born. It seems prescient now, and perhaps it was, to be born just a few miles away in the wake of the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.
In retrospect, the tragedy that inspired the dawning of the environmental movement, seems be the genesis of my personal journey from environmental activist to elected official. I am not alone in that arc, as the unprecedented oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara was a call to action for many and continues to be.
The silver lining of the spill was that several substantial policies were created that aimed to protect the environment in general, with a special focus on our coastal waters. It was a moment in which the environment that we hold so dear and that is essential to every aspect of our lives was not politicized. It was not a partisan issue. In fact, the day after the spill washed ashore, President Nixon (R) announced a complete cessation of drilling, as well as production, in the federal waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.
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Last week we woke up to find the Trump administration has decided to throw that all away and open up the coast that supports so many aspects of our community to off-shore oil drilling. The administration has made it clear they are all-in on destroying our coast. This is Trump’s new policy.
This is a call to action for every person on the coast and beyond. It is up to us to make it equally clear that we are all-in on defending and conserving what makes this part of the world so special.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stated “We want to grow our nation’s offshore energy industry, instead of slowly surrendering it to foreign shores.”
With this type of policy, we will be surrendering our leadership in energy efficiency, renewable energy and climate policies that would ensure our nation's success.
If they would like to see what real energy dominance looks like I suggest they take a look at the following recent examples: Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Irma, the Thomas Fire, the Tubbs Fire, Superstorm Sandy. You get the idea. Nature bats last. Secretary Zinke and his boss need to keep their oil derricks where they belong.
In case you are hoping that at least there must be protections in place — think again. This assault comes subsequently to major moves toward proposals that would all but ensure we would experience a major oil spill here on the Central Coast if this moves forward. Just last month the Trump administration proposed weakening offshore oil and drilling safeguards and killed an independent study needed to help update and strengthen responsible public oversight of oil and gas operations in our oceans. Of course Trump's policy is not about what is best for the people of the United States, but rather what is best for the fossil fuel industry.
They must think that we are not paying attention. Boy, are they wrong.
We have everything we need to be truly energy independent. What this country and this world really needs is the political will to bring that to life. Luckily we have a lot of that political will here on the Central Coast. Two California legislators are reintroducing legislation to protect the state from new federal offshore oil drilling. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) are reintroducing legislation to ensure pipelines and other infrastructure cannot be built in California waters to support any new federal oil development.
“California’s economy thrives because of our environmental protections,” said Jackson. “It’s more important than ever that we send a strong statement that California will not be open for drilling along our coast, which could devastate our multi-trillion dollar coastal economy, our coastal waters and marine life.”
Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) also condemned the move: “I am committed to working with my colleagues to fight this misguided decision that risks the health and safety of our coastal communities.”
I am grateful the San Luis Obispo City Council agrees that expanding off-shore oil would be detrimental. In May of this year, my colleagues and I wrote a letter opposing any revisions to the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
As part of its legislative platform, the city opposes expansion of existing or new gas leases off San Luis Obispo County and we stand together with other elected officials in the California Legislature against any federal actions threatening to stem progress toward a clean energy future.
The city of San Luis Obispo recently made climate action one of its major city goals and committed to moving toward a net-zero energy future. By the end of 2017, more than 10,000 distributed solar projects had been installed on homes and businesses across SLO County, creating over $300 million dollars in direct local economic activity. We are part of a growing coalition of cities across the state and nation that understands that the time is now.
It’s time to move forward to the clean renewable energy that will provide a more sustainable and resilient economy, environment and future for all.
Heidi Harmon is mayor of San Luis Obispo.