By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California will block the transport of petroleum from new offshore oil rigs through its state, officials told Reuters, a move meant to hobble the Trump administration’s effort to vastly expand drilling in U.S. federal waters.
California's threat to deny pipeline permits for transporting oil from new leases off the Pacific Coast is the latest step by states trying to halt the biggest proposed expansion in decades of federal oil and gas leasing. Officials in Florida, North and South Carolina, Delaware and Washington, have also warned drilling could despoil beaches, harm wildlife and hurt lucrative tourism industries.
"I am resolved that not a single drop from Trump's new oil plan ever makes landfall in California," Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, chair of the State Lands Commission and a Democratic candidate for governor, said in an emailed statement.
The administration has scheduled too few public meetings in California to get input on the proposed offshore drilling plan, the lands commission contended on Wednesday in a letter, seen by Reuters, that was sent to an official at the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The letter urged the bureau's program manager Kelly Hammerle to withdraw the draft proposal and noted that only one hearing has been scheduled in the entire state of 40 million people.
"It is certain that the state would not approve new pipelines or allow use of existing pipelines to transport oil from new leases onshore,” wrote the commission, charged with permitting pipelines in California.
California has also clashed with President Donald Trump's administration on a range of other issues from climate change to automobile efficiency regulations to immigration.
The Interior Department last month announced its proposal to open nearly all U.S. offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, sparking protests from coastal states, environmentalists and the tourism industry. Governors from nearly every U.S. coastal state except Alaska and Maine expressed opposition, and even Alaska's governor requested sensitive areas be removed.
Developing the five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leases is "a very open and public process," Heather Swift, spokeswoman for Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, said in an emailed response to the California letter.
"Secretary Zinke looks forward to meeting with more Governors and other coastal representatives who want to discuss the draft program," she said, adding the bureau "has planned 23 public meetings, in our coastal states, to secure feedback directly from citizens."
In an interview on Tuesday, William Brown, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's chief environmental officer, said state input is taken seriously, and has resulted in past drilling plans being scaled back. He said the approval process would take two years and include an environmental review.
Trump has said more offshore drilling would boost the U.S. economy and national security by reducing reliance on imported oil. Opponents have complained that Congress has passed no new safety standards since BP Plc’s Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It took months to stop that leak, which became the largest oil spill in American history, despoiling the environment of Gulf Coast states and causing billions of dollars in economic damage.
Offshore drilling has been restricted in California since a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. In 2015, a spill in Santa Barbara County sent as much as 2,400 barrels of oil (101,000 gallons or 382,000 liters) onto the coast and into the Pacific, leaving slicks that stretched over nine miles (14 km).
Zinke has said he would exempt Florida from the drilling plan to protect its tourism industry. On Jan. 24, U.S. lawmakers from Florida sent Zinke a letter pressing him to honor that pledge. The letter, signed by both Florida U.S. Senators and 22 of its 27 House members, noted that the acting chief of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had said Florida's coast is "still under consideration for offshore drilling."
Neal Kirby, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents small and mid-sized drilling companies, said his members support the administration’s drilling plan. But, he said that if California bars oil from passing through pipelines, companies would be far less likely to seek new offshore leases there.
Environmentalists and some elected officials plan to protest the drilling plan at a public meeting on Thursday in Sacramento. A similar meeting planned this week in Tacoma, Washington, was canceled amid protests.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Richard Valdmanis and David Gregorio)