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Big Oil money defeated bill to ban drilling in marine protected area

by Dan Bacher
An ongoing analysis of reports filed with the California Secretary of State shows that the oil industry, the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, collectively spent over $63 million lobbying California policymakers between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2014.

The Western States Petroleum Association, led by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California, topped the oil industry lobby spending with $26,969,861.
Big Oil money defeated bill to ban drilling in marine protected area

by Dan Bacher

Only in a Big Oil state like California would an oil industry lobbyist chair a task force to create so-called “marine protected areas” – and then strongly oppose a bill to ban oil drilling in a "marine protected area."

Only in a Big Oil state like California would a Legislator have to author a bill to ban offshore oil drilling in a "marine protected area."

And only in a Big Oil state like California would the Legislature vote against a bill to stop oil drilling in a "marine protected area."

That's right - State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s bill to ban offshore oil drilling from an area of state waters in the Santa Barbara Channel known as Tranquillon Ridge stalled on the Assembly Floor on the evening of August 26, effectively killing the bill for the year, due to massive opposition by the oil industry.

The bill, SB 1096, would have protected the Vandenburg State Marine Reserve, created under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, and the rest of the Tranquillon Ridge from offshore oil drilling plans.

The vote was 29-36, according to Senator Jackson’s office.

“If ever there were proof positive of big oil's stranglehold on the State of California, this is it,” said Joey Racano, Director of the Ocean Outfall Group. “Even our best attempt at providing some protections for our future fisheries and ecology swatted aside by big oil money and corrupt politicians. Another thing this proves is the reality of the military/industrial complex. Big oil is the US military, and the US military is big oil.”

Ayes included Ammiano, Bloom, Bonta, Buchanan, Campos, Chau, Chesbro, Dababneh, Dickinson, Fong, Garcia, Gatto, Gomez, Gordon, Levine, Lowenthal, Mullin, Muratsuchi, Nazarian, Pan, John A. Pérez, V. Manuel Pérez, Rendon, Skinner, Stone, Ting, Wieckowski, Williams, Yamada and Atkins.

Noes included Achadjian, Allen, Bigelow, Bocanegra, Bonilla, Chávez, Conway, Cooley, Dahle, Donnelly, Fox, Frazier, Beth Gaines, Gonzalez, Gorell, Gray, Grove, Hagman, Harkey, Jones, Linder, Logue, Maienschein, Mansoor, Medina, Melendez, Nestande, Olsen, Patterson, Perea, Quirk-Silva, Ridley-Thomas, Salas, Wagner, Waldron and Wilk.

No Votes were recorded by Alejo, Bradford, Brown, Ian Calderon, Daly, Eggman, Hall, Roger Hernández, Holden, Jones-Sawyer, Quirk, Rodriguez and Weber.

“I’m disappointed in what happened tonight, but remain committed to protecting this area of our Santa Barbara coastline from the impacts of new offshore oil drilling for the long haul,” said Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). “I will continue to pursue avenues to protect Tranquillon Ridge, which inspires us with its beauty and biological diversity, and helps drive our local economy with tourism and hospitality jobs and thousands of visitors to our area.”

“I’m proud to be a co-author of SB 1096, because I believe that protecting our sensitive coastal habitat is of the utmost importance to our economy and our environment,” said Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Carpinteria). “I will continue to work with Senator Jackson to fight for those protections.”

Oil industry spent $63 million lobbying in Sacramento in 5-1/2 years

The defeat of the bill shows the enormous power of Big Oil in California. While there are many powerful industries based in California, ranging from the computer and high tech industry to corporate agribusiness, no industry has more influence over the state's environmental policies than Big Oil.

An ongoing analysis of reports filed with the California Secretary of State shows that the oil industry, the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, collectively spent over $63 million lobbying California policymakers between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2014.

The Western States Petroleum Association, led by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California, topped the oil industry lobby spending with $26,969,861.

"The oil industry is spending over $1 million per month lobbying Sacramento, with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) as the second overall leading spender so far in 2014 with almost $3 million spent in the past six months," according to Stop Fooling California (, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. "Chevron, with $1.3 million spent so far in 2014, is also among the top five. If money speaks, Big Oil has the loudest voice in politics."

WSPA was California’s second overall leading lobbyist spender, with $1.5 million spent in the second quarter of 2014. This is the second largest quarter going back to January 2009.

WSPA is on pace to exceed the previous annual (2012) total in 2014. So far this session, WSPA has paid over $2 million to KP Public Affairs, the state’s highest paid lobbying firm, during the current (2013-14) legislative session, according to the group. WSPA spent $4,670,010 on lobbying in 2013 and $5,698,917 in 2012.

Chevron is the fifth overall spender in California through the second quarter of 2014, having spent $784,757 over the past quarter, an increase of nearly $300,000 over the prior quarter.

Yet these millions of dollars are just chump change to Big Oil, since the five big oil companies made over $93 billion in profits in 2013. This year their estimated profits to date are over $64 billion.(

Loopholes in Coastal Sanctuary Act and MLPA Initiative allow oil drilling

The failure of the bill also sheds the spotlight on two glaring loopholes in the implementation of California environmental law – one in the California Coastal Sanctuary Act and the other in the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative’s creation of “marine protected areas”

In 1994, declaring that “offshore oil and gas production in certain areas of state waters poses an unacceptably high risk of damage and disruption to the marine environment of the state,” the California Legislature banned any new offshore oil and gas leases when it passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act.

But a loophole in state law left Tranquillon Ridge, which extends into state and federal waters, with reserves that are currently being tapped in federal waters from Platform Irene, uniquely vulnerable to offshore drilling. Senate Bill 1096 would have repealed this loophole, found in Public Resources Code 6244, according to a statement from Jackson’s Office.

“'Even the slightest chance of an oil spill in a Marine Protected Area far outweighs any potential benefit to the state,” Jackson said. (

The second loophole is in the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative that created the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve and other “marine protected areas” in California waters.

Fishermen, Tribal leaders and grassroots environmentalists have repeatedly criticized the controversial MLPA Initiative for creating questionable "marine protected areas" that fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling, fracking, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

In one of the most overt conflicts of interest in recent California history, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged "marine protected areas" in Southern California. Reheis-Boyd, who is leading the campaign to expand fracking and offshore oil drilling in California, also served on the task forces to create "marine protected areas" on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.

The Coastal Justice Coalition, a group of members of the Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Karuk and other Tribes who agree that the State of California has no right to regulate tribal gathering, exposed this loophole in the MLPA Initiative when they stated, "Protected areas would allow for deep water drilling yet would ban tribal gathering," in a news release issued in June 2010. (

While MLPA Initiative officials let the oil industry, corporate polluters and ocean industrialists off the hook in their strange concept of "marine protection, oil drilling would have been banned in one state marine protected area, the Vanderberg State Marine Reserve, if Jackson’s bill had passed.

Oil companies have made numerous attempts over the years to tap into Tranquillon Ridge’s offshore reserves from state waters. Since 2003, an oil development proposal has been pursued by Sunset and Exxon to drill into Tranquillon Ridge reserves from an onshore location at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

“Slant drilling from onshore into offshore waters raises significant concerns about possible oil spills, impacts on marine life, air and water pollution, and contributions to global climate change,” according to Jackson’s Office.

On September 28, 1997, a discharge of at least 163 barrels of crude oil occurred from a rupture in a 20-inch offshore pipeline emanating from Platform Irene off the Santa Barbara County coast near Vandenberg Air Force Base, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The spill resulted in the fouling of approximately 17 miles of coastline, and caused an impact to a variety of natural resources, including seabirds, sandy and gravel beach habitats, rocky intertidal shoreline habitats, and use of beaches for human recreation (

Need for bill shows the failure of MLPA Initiative

Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), praised Senator Jackson for sponsoring the bill - and said the necessity of having to sponsor a bill like this to protect a marine protected area from oil drilling "highlights what a failure the MLPA Initiative was.”

“If these are true marine protected areas, they why are we allowing drilling and other insults to the ocean in them?” asked Grader. “The whole MLPA Initiative was a phony process that provided an opportunity for Big Green and government bureaucrats to write press releases claiming these were ‘protected areas’ when in reality the fishermen and Tribes got screwed. We should have bans on oil drilling in all of the marine protected areas."

The time to ban offshore oil drilling, fracking, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing and other harmful activities to marine life in all "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative is long overdue. The oil industry's inordinate influence over the MLPA Initiative and other environmental processes, the Legislature and the Governor's Office is due to the enormous amount of money that the oil industry dumps into campaign contributions and lobbying in Sacramento every year.

A report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil has spent $143.3 million on political candidates and campaigns – nearly $10 million per year and more than any other corporate lobby – over the past fifteen years. (

But Big Oil exerts its influence not just by making campaign contributions, but also by lobbying legislators at the State Capitol. The oil industry spent $123.6 million to lobby elected officials in California from 1999 through 2013. This was an increase of over 400 percent since the 1999-2000 legislative session, when the industry spent $4.8 million. In 2013-2014 alone, the top lobbyist employer, Western States Petroleum Association, spent $4.7 million.

Ironically, while WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd served on the task forces to "protect" the ocean, the same oil industry that the "marine guardian" represents was conducting environmentally destructive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations off the Southern California coast. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and media investigations by Associated Press and reveal that the ocean has been fracked at least 203 times in the past 20 years, including the period from 2004 to 2012 that Reheis-Boyd served as a "marine guardian.” (

In addition to the oil industry spending exerting its enormous power through campaign contributions, lobbying legislators and serving on state and federal regulatory panels, the oil industry also has set up "Astroturf" groups, including the California Drivers Alliance and Fueling California, to fight against environmental regulations protecting our air, water, land, fish, wildlife and human health.

"The set up is basically this: some Californian (who is supposed to be your proxy) regurgitates Big Oil talking points that don't resemble reality, equating protecting Big Oil's profits with protecting the people," according to Stop Fooling California.

Bill Supporters and Opponents:

Supporters of the bill included the Environmental Defense Center (sponsor), Asian Pacific Environmental Network, AZUL, California Coastkeeper Alliance, California Coastal Protection Network, California League of Conservation Voters, California State Grange, Salud Carbajal, First District Supervisor, County of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria Valley Association, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment, Community Environmental Council, Citizens for Responsible Oil & Gas, Clean Water Action, Earthworks, Environment California, Environmental Working Group, Food and Water Watch, Get Oil Out!, Heal the Ocean, Cathy Murillo, Mayor Pro-Tem, City of Santa Barbara, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, San Diego 350.Org, Santa Barbara Audubon Society, Sierra Club California, Surfrider Foundation, WILDCOAST and 350 Santa Barbara.

Opponents included the California Chamber of Commerce, California Independent Petroleum Association, California Manufacturers & Technology Association, Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, Concerned Taxpayers, I.N.C., Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, Santa Barbara County Technology and Industry Association, Sunset Exploration and the Western States Petroleum Association.

Vandenberg SMR Background:

Vandenberg State Marine Reserve (SMR) is a marine protected area (MPA) located offshore of Vandenberg Air Force Base, near the city of Lompoc on the Central Coast. The MPA covers 32.84 square miles.

Vandenberg SMR is supposed to "protect" all marine life within its boundaries and fishing and take of all living marine resources is prohibited. However, the "marine reserve," like others established under the MLPA Initiative, doesn't ban oil drilling, fracking or pollution.

Vandenberg SMR was established in September 2007 in a controversial public-private partnership between the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It was one of 29 marine protected areas adopted during the first phase of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.
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C. T. Weber
Wed, Sep 10, 2014 12:48AM
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