Debra J. Saunders
6/12/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
You've got to love Californians. When Bill Clinton was president, folks happily agreed that Clinton should pass goodies onto the Golden State because they helped him win the White House. Friends help friends.
But when President Bush helps his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, by having Uncle Sam buy up Florida's federal offshore-oil leases, Gov. Gray Davis is indignant that President Bush won't do the same for California. Davis tried to pin California's electricity crisis on Bush, and Bush is supposed to respond by helping Davis out. Ha!
A California deal could drain $2 billion -- as opposed to Florida's $235 million -- from federal coffers. Bush is supposed to figure that money is no object if it can keep California coastlines chichi? Anything to let Californians be assured that new domestic drilling will be limited to tacky places where men drive pickups with rifle racks and chew tobacco.
Davis was incensed last week when Interior Secretary Gale Norton told him Dubya won't bail out California because "Florida opposes coastal drilling, and California does not." His Grayness countered that Californians "vehemently" oppose new offshore drilling.
"Vehemently" is accurate to the extent that you can vehemently oppose drilling while driving alone in an SUV with an enviro bumper sticker.
Actually, Norton was referring to the fact that, unlike California, Florida never issued state offshore leases. In a neat bit of jujitsu, Norton noted that 150 new California-lease wells were drilled since 1990, but there were only 114 new federal wells. Norton spokesman Mark Pfeifle crowed that as a State Lands Commissioner, lieutenant governor and top guy, "Mr. Davis has since the early '90s participated in more drilling than Jed Clampett."
In Davis' defense, spokesman Roger Salazar noted, Davis had to operate under decades-old leases. And: Private companies "have a right to drill on their lease. Otherwise you'd have to compensate them for it."
All true. Thing is, Salazar's arguments also work for Bush. America is supposed to honor property rights. It's not legal to renege on a lease; so it's expensive if you want out.
Joining the circus, Davis' GOP challenger, Bill Simon, says he would ban new offshore drilling. Simon even hit Davis for approving drilling. (Simon spokesman Jeff Flint explained: "Gray Davis can't have it both ways. He can't portray himself as the defender of the coast at the same time he is taking (money) from oil companies and expanding drilling off the coast.")
Simon has obviously figured out what voters want to hear: Drilling bad.
And don't want to hear: That California is the "do as we say not as we do" state. According to the state Energy Commission, California consumes twice as much gasoline as it produces.
Salazar mused that if Gray's last name were Bush, there would be a different ending. Yet Salazar well knows -- he worked on the Al Gore presidential campaign -- the Clinton administration could have stepped in, checkbook in hand, but didn't.
So why should Bush pony up? Said Stanley Young of the State Resources Agency, "The coast of California generates a great deal of revenue, and a great deal of the California economy is dependent on the health of its coastal resources."
Good grief, the worst that happens is that U.S. taxpayers save $2 bil and oil companies exercise a mere 36 leases off California's mid-coast. That doesn't mean wall-to-wall oil derricks lining beaches from Chula Vista to Crescent City. It means a few industrial jewels glittering in the seascape. Cruise some night down a sweet stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway and you'll see them, twinkling like happy stars.