By Melody Gutierrez
California officials said they will block the federal government from transporting oil using existing or new pipelines, a move that would disrupt President Trump's plan to expand drilling off the state's coast.
The California State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission sent letters Wednesday to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management urging the agency to withdraw plans to allow the ocean drilling, saying the proposal increases the threat of an oil spill that could devastate the state's ocean and marine environment.
"Given how unpopular oil development in coastal waters is in California, 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 lands commissioners Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Controller Betty Yee and state Department of Finance Director Michael Cohen.
Both commissions have authority over the permitting companies' need to extract and move oil and gas from coastal waters. California placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leases in 1969, following an oil spill that devastated the Santa Barbara coast.
"We've fought similar efforts before, and we will fight them again," said California Coastal Commission Chair Dayna Bochco in a statement.
Trump's calls for more domestic drilling have received bipartisan pushback from governors of coastal states, including Gov. Jerry Brown.
The letters come as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, holds a meeting in Sacramento on Thursday to take public comment on Trump's offshore drilling plans. Trump signed an executive order last year requiring the Interior Department to reconsider drilling bans signed by President Obama. It also directed federal agencies to review restrictions in national marine sanctuaries.
The Trump order means swaths of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans that aren't part of the federal government's oil leasing plan already could be made available to energy companies. The plan currently being considered would allow the federal government to offer oil drilling leases in 47 areas off the coast of the United States from 2019 to 2024, including six areas across California's coast.
Currently, there are 23 offshore oil and gas facilities in federal waters off California's coast and four platforms in state waters, according to the state lands commission.
Hundreds of opponents are expected to flood the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's meeting in Sacramento on Thursday. State lawmakers have scheduled rallies outside the Capitol, and environmental groups are busing people from across the state to attend. The hearing is the only California meeting for in-person public comment on Trump's drilling plans. Critics say the hearing is woefully inadequate for a state of nearly 40 million people. They also say the meeting should not be held in Sacramento, 75 miles from the coast. There are 22 public meetings scheduled in other coastal states where residents can provide feedback in person.
The deadline to give in-person or written public comment is March 9, with that feedback to be considered in the Interior Department's drafting of the five-year drilling program. The final plan would be open to public comment before it gets adopted.
"Creating a Five Year Program is a very open and public process, and Secretary (Ryan) Zinke looks forward to meeting with more Governors and other coastal representatives who want to discuss the draft program," said Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior, in a statement.
California has asked for an exemption from the federal oil drilling plan. Trump has granted Florida an exemption, and critics say his decision to allow California drilling is punitive.
"President Trump's offshore oil drilling plan is a step backward in time, toward an energy policy that blindly handcuffs the nation to an unsustainable future," Newsom said in a statement Wednesday. "We will not be complacent in the face of Donald Trump's deliberate partisan assault on California, its people, and its economy, and we will use every tool available to resist his cynical, regressive agenda."
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