Editorials

Board of Supervisors should come out strong against offshore oil drilling

Workers collect oil-soaked straw from the beach at Santa Barbara Harbor on Feb. 7, 1969, following a leak from an offshore oil well. So far, 33 California coastal cities and counties have passed resolutions opposing expansion of offshore oil drilling. But not San Luis Obispo County.
Workers collect oil-soaked straw from the beach at Santa Barbara Harbor on Feb. 7, 1969, following a leak from an offshore oil well. So far, 33 California coastal cities and counties have passed resolutions opposing expansion of offshore oil drilling. But not San Luis Obispo County. AP file photo

So far, 33 California coastal cities and counties have passed formal resolutions opposing expansion of offshore oil drilling. San Luis Obispo County, unfortunately, is not one of them; the Board of Supervisors recently declined to consider such action.

Will the Trump administration even notice SLO County’s silence?

Probably not — especially since the city of San Luis Obispo has gone on record in opposition.

Other local communities, including Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and Grover Beach, have either taken a position in opposition or are considering it.

While the county’s absence will likely go unnoticed by the Department of the Interior, there are other reasons resolutions matter.

Resolutions clearly communicate politicians’ positions to their constituents.

There also is a lot to be said for solidarity, especially when our neighboring county of Santa Barbara has suffered through two major oil spills, including the big 1969 spill that was the genesis for Earth Day.

What’s more, this isn’t just an opportunity to show geographic unity; offshore drilling also is one of the few issues that California Democrats and many Republicans — including our local Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham — have agreed on.

In this era of partisan strife, that’s something that gets noticed.

Don’t take our word for it: Bipartisan agreement was one of the reasons Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gave for exempting Florida from offshore drilling.

“In the case of Florida, the governor asked first for an immediate meeting and every member on both sides of the aisle contacted my office, wrote letters on it,” Zinke told CNN. “Not every state has all the members against it.”

That wasn’t the only reason Zinke gave: “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

The same could be said for California, especially for an area like ours that relies so heavily on visitors.

The obvious response from coastal Californians should be to demand the same consideration that Florida received — not to clam up, as some of our local electeds are doing.

It’s especially odd that the Board of Supervisors didn’t get on board with a resolution, since in a roundabout way, San Luis Obispo County already is on record opposing offshore oil.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 (Chairman John Peschong recused himself and Debbie Arnold voted no) to submit a letter supporting Rep. Salud Carbajal’s bill prohibiting oil and gas leasing off the coast of California — a bill that stood no chance of passing.

“We have a great interest in preserving the coast and associated marine environment for current and future generations,” the letter says in part. It also points out that Measure A, passed by voters in 1985, prohibits development of any onshore facility that would support offshore oil and gas activity unless it’s approved by a majority of registered voters.

Keep in mind, that letter was sent before the Trump administration proposed opening offshore waters to new leasing.

When Supervisor Bruce Gibson recently proposed responding with an update in the form of a resolution, he got no support from other supervisors. (Adam Hill was absent; John Peschong recused himself on account of past consulting work with oil companies; and Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold declined to support the motion.)

Arnold pointed out that the county already has Measure A, which she described as “a very, very powerful tool ... much more powerful than anything an elected body can write.”

Compton noted that the county already had gone on record against offshore drilling in the letter sent last year. She also disagreed with some provisions in a model resolution that had been brought to the board.

OK, so draft another resolution you can live with. But don’t leave us guessing as to your position, and don’t rely on Measure A to speak for the county.

That ballot measure was passed 33 years ago. We would venture to guess that, oh, maybe 10 percent of county residents know what Measure A is. (We did a quick, totally unscientific survey at The Tribune, and only one of the 11 people we spoke to knew what it was. Many of them weren’t even alive when Measure A was passed.)

If you aren’t going to pass a resolution, at least have the discussion.

That might help diffuse an issue that’s bound to be a source of contention in upcoming elections, judging from reader comments we’re already receiving.

If the majority of board members really are on the same page regarding opposition to off-shore, why not put this issue to rest now? That way, it won’t distract voters from the other issues directly under the county’s purview — such as housing and the budget and the Oceano Dunes dust and deaths at the County Jail.

We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to reconsider drafting a resolution opposing offshore oil — and for any other local governments not already on board to do the same.

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