Federal and state candidates, office-holders from our region wade into the fray
By Lola Sherman
ECM Editor Miriam Raftery also contributed to this story
May 6, 2010 (San Diego) --To drill or not to drill is a question that voters may weigh more heavily following the disastrous explosion April 20 on a British Petroleum oil rig off the Louisiana coast.
“Drill baby, drill” is still former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's mantra, even though her state suffered one of the worst oil spills in history. But in California, some elected officials and candidates now say they’ve changed their minds about oil drilling off our state’s shorelines in the wake of the Gulf Coast disaster.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez accident off Alaska fouled 1,300 miles of coastline, or approximately the distance from San Diego to Tacoma, Washington. Some experts predict the Gulf Coast disaster could be even worse, with over 9,000 miles of shoreline in the Gulf at risk.
GOVERNOR CHANGES STANCE; OPPONENTS SPLIT ON DRILLING OFF CA
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has withdrawn his support of the Tranquillon Ridge drilling project off California’s Coast as a result of the Gulf Coast spill, the Associated Press reports. "You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, 'Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'" he said at a news conference.
Schwarzenegger had hoped to balance the state's ailing budget with $100 million offered by an oil-drilling company seeking to expand its operations off the Santa Barbara coast. Now, the Governor says he'll find the money somewhere else.
The major candidates to replace him are Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry Brown and Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.
Brown a staunch environmentalist, always has opposed offshore drilling.
Whitman's statements have seemed a bit ambiguous at times, for instance when her website states that “with advances in drilling technology that reduce environmental risks, we need to re-look at offshore drilling. We have to utilize our resources here at home to reduce dependence. I want to look at new technologies such as slant drilling.”
But her aide, Sarah Pompei told East County Magazine, “Meg is a no right now on off shore oil drilling , and that has been her position throughout the campaign. While she will continue to look at advances in technology, she would want to be sure the environmental impact would be near zero before signing off.
Steve Poizner, who called for a permanent ban to offshore drilling back in 2004, now supports more drilling from existing platforms, the Sacramento Bee reported May 2.
LT. GOVERNOR CANDIDATES BOTH AGAINST NEW CA DRILLING
In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Democrat Gavin Newsom opposes drilling off the California coast. “The environmental catastrophe devastating the Gulf of Mexico is a tragic reminder of why we must take a stand against the oil companies and oppose all offshore drilling off California's precious coast,“ Newsom said.
Republican Abel Maldonado has long opposed drilling off Santa Barbara. Maldonado's staff said he has never changed his position against offshore drilling.
SENATOR BOXER TO HOLD HEARINGS ON SPILL; OPPONENTS SPLIT ON DRILLING SUPPORT
Democratic U. S. Senator Barbara Boxer has opposed offshore drilling for many years. Boxer has announced that she will convene the full Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works at 2:30 p.m. EDT next Tuesday “to examine economic and environmental impacts” of the oil spill in the Gulf.” The announcement said witnesses will include experts on the impacts to local economies, fisheries and tourism, as well as wildlife and natural resources.
One of her opponents, Republican Tom Campbell, also opposes drilling off California. The other, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, favors lifting the ban, McClatchy News reports.
But Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina takes a different stance, according to her aide, Amy Thoma.
“This situation is a tragedy, but Carly does not support a ban on offshore drilling,” Thoma said. “Its an economic tragedy for the people of the Gulf Coast, and it certainly is an environmental tragedy, but it is also true that there has been a great deal of offshore drilling that has continued in an environmentally responsible way.” Fiorina supports an investigation and new regulations aimed at preventing future spills, but wants to see a balance between protecting the economy and the environment, Thoma added. “It would be a gross overreaction to say let's ban all offshore drilling or let's suspend offshore drilling until we understand what happened here or to turn this into a political football.”
FEINSTEIN PRAISES DRILLING BAN; OBAMA ISSUES MORATORIUM
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein praised President Barack Obama for extending a ban on drilling off California’s coast in early April, before the Gulf Coast spill.
President Obama supports offshore drilling “done responsibly for the safety of our workers and the environment” as part of a comprehensive energy strategy to meet energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil while shifting the U.S. economy towards green energy options such as wind and solar. The President has issued a moratorium on new offshore drilling following the disaster off Louisiana’s coast.
SAN DIEGO CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVES, CANDIDATES DIVIDED ON DRILLING ISSUE
San Diego County's five representatives in Congress have varying opinions, with Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) the most vocal supporter of offshore drilling. Huner has taken $3,750 from the oil industry in contributions, according to a website tracking oil industry contributions to Congress. Candidates to replace each of San Diego’s incumbents basically split along party lines. Democrats oppose drilling; Republicans favor it.
Of the five Congressional representatives, Darrell Issa, R-Vista, always favored the right of states to make decisions about their own shoreline. Now, however, an aide said the issue is the failure of regulators to handle safety. Regulatory reform of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) "must be one of our first priorities before we even think about allowing any additional oil exploration," Kurt Bardella, press spokesman for Issa, said.
A check of the Federal Election Commission's Web site shows that Issa received donations ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 from the likes of Valero, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum.
In the East County, Hunter's stance in favor of drilling has been steadfast. His campaign website reads, “The only way to free ourselves from terrorist despots who negotiate international policy using oil prices is to keep working on alternative energy while at the same time following an “all of the above” approach. We must build more oil refineries, build nuclear facilities, and drill.”
But his opponent, Ray Lutz , an El Cajon business owner, sees the possibility of oil spills “decimating the coastline” and creating “a little sheen of oil” everywhere.”
Libertarian candidate Michael Benoit of Santee, who is also running in Hunter’s district, has the most innovative answer to the drill-or-not-to-drill question.
The solution to the nation's need for fuel, Benoit said, lies in hemp.
If the government sponsored wholesale production of hemp oil, he said, it no longer would be dependent on oil wells, either on or offshore.
Longtime Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad, opposes any offshore drilling in California, according to his aide, Fritz Chaleff, who said Bilbray believes other states should determine for themselves whether to allow it. But in an April 19 letter to President Barack Obama, Bilbray wrote: “The US needs to utilize all of our energy resources - to limit offshore drilling based on lame excuses and unproven environmental hysteria is irrational behavior. Continuing to transfer wealth to OPEC countries that should stay in the domestic economy just further erodes the economic base of the US.”
Tracy Emblem, Democratic attorney from Escondido running in the primary in Bilbray’s district, noted he voted for HR NUMBER in 2006, a bill which would have allowed oil exploration on the continental shelf. However, that bill was never voted on by the Senate and never became law.
“We've got to go with green energy,” Emblem said.
Emblem also noted that Source Watch, a Web site which keeps track of campaign contributions, reported that Bilbray received $182,818 from oil companies.
Francine Busby of Cardiff, also a Democratic opponent of Bilbray's, said it's time to invest in conservation and alternative fuel sources because of the enormous risk involved in offshore drilling.
San Diegans Bob Filner and Susan Davis, both Democrats, long have opposed offshore drilling. Filner has received no oil industry contributions since 2004. Davis has never received any money from the oil industry.
Filner's Republican opponent, Nick Popaditch, a retired Marine, could not be reached for comment.
In Davis' district, four Republican hopefuls vying for her seat all favor offshore drilling.
“I continue to support offshore oil drilling, as long as the drilling platforms are out of the coastal line of sight,” candidate Michael Crimmins said. “Energy companies must be held financially responsible for any accidents that occur. They must have immediate rapid-reaction plans and equipment available for implementation and deployment to resolve any mishaps that occur, such as what just occurred in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana.”
Republican opponent Matt Friedman said, “We do not even know what happened yet (in the BP explosion).” He said it could be ecoterrorism or a case of not following safety procedures. “Until all these things are answered, I will not shift my position. I think the government has got to support drilling.” But he added that nuclear energy is the eventual solution. “Any fossil fuels are intermediary energy sources.”
Friedman notes that President Obama is financing offshore drilling in Brazil and yet opposes it here. “I just want people to be consistent,” he said.
“I believe we should bring revenue and jobs here,” Davis opponent Republican Mason Weaver said. Of 100 wells, Weaver said, only one exploded. “I know we have the capacity to drill oil safely.” he said.
“I believe in offshore drilling,” Republican candidate Mari Hamlin Fink said, “I believe this (the Gulf Coast accident) is an aberration.”
STATE SENATE CANDIDATES SPILL VIEWS ON DRILLING
Add to the list of proponents and opponents State Senate candidates in the 36th district, which encompasses most of East County.
Republican Jeff Stone, a Riverside County supervisor, favors drilling but added “We need safeguards for wells to try and prevent offshore disasters such as we are seeing in the Gulf.” He also indicated that “There are risks to everything we do. There are risks of spending billions every day buying oil from countries that want to erase Israel off the face of the map first, and erase America off the map second.”
Fellow Republican candidate Greg Stephens, a Poway pastor, also supports offshore drilling, calling the explosion a tragedy but saying drilling must continue “until we can get alternative energy on line.”
Assemblyman Joel Anderson, also a Republican candidate for the 36th State Senate primary, could not be reached for comment.
Paul Clay, the Democrat, opposes drilling off the California coast.
CALIFORNIA LEADERS TAKE ACTION IN WASHINGTON
Five Congressional committees are convening hearings on the Gulf Spill. Now California’s former Lieutenant Governor, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek), has introduced a bill to permanently ban drilling off the West Coast and increase liability for oil companies if catastrophic spills occur.
“The ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd has insisted for years that oil drilling from offshore platforms is safe and clean. The millions of Americans who live along the Gulf Coast would now beg to differ,” Garamendi concluded, adding that a similar calamity in federal waters here could contaminate Southern California beaches and port communities.