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Garamendi & Farr: It’s Time to Stop Offshore Drilling

Three months after the Deepwater Horizon disaster — which has dumped more than 12 times the amount of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill into the Gulf of Mexico — we have cautious room for optimism. If the cap on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well holds — and that’s a big if — the cause of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history will have finally been patched.

Perhaps the worst is over — this time. But the cleanup continues and the Gulf Coast’s tourism and fishing economies continue to suffer terribly. America is left with one inescapable question: “Was it worth it?” Our view is no, and that’s why we need the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, which would prohibit new drilling leases off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington.

Our home state of California is all too familiar with the dire consequences of offshore oil drilling. A 1969 Santa Barbara spill foreshadowed the events that have wreaked havoc on the Gulf of Mexico. The owner of the Santa Barbara platform, Union Oil, had been granted a waiver that allowed it to operate below federal safety standards. After the blowout, California’s pristine coast was bombarded with 11 days of oil and sludge. About 3 million gallons of oil escaped into the biologically diverse waters of the Santa Barbara Channel, marring 35 miles of coastline and killing thousands of marine animals.

When we drill near our coasts, disaster will inevitably strike. Yet something positive emerged from the Santa Barbara spill. The aftermath of this spill and the resulting public outcry led to Santa Barbara County establishing the nation’s first Earth Day. Many cite the disaster as the birth of the modern American environmental movement. Thousands of angry Californians wrote their Representatives, leading to California imposing a moratorium on new offshore oil leases in state waters — a moratorium that exists to this day.

In 1969, as in 2010, the technology of the day failed to prevent or address the spill. Tragically, we have not learned from the lessons of the past. The spill in the Gulf shows that our reach has exceeded our grasp; our ability to extract has exceeded our ability to anticipate and prevent disaster. It will happen again if we allow new offshore oil drilling to continue.

It may take months or even years before we know the true final cost to the Gulf Coast communities, and it’s impossible to quantify the damage that has shattered the Gulf Coast. It’s time we hold Big Oil accountable for its negligence.

That the oil industry currently has a paltry $75 million cap on liability for oil spill cleanup is inexcusable. That fossil fuels currently receive about $12 billion a year in federal subsidies is unacceptable. That we continue to permit new oil leases in federal waters when our resources would be better spent investing in the clean technologies of the future is outrageous.

We are proud to be leading the fight to stop new offshore oil and natural gas platform drilling in federal waters off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. Congressman Garamendi’s West Coast Ocean Protection Act is premised on a simple idea: “Drill, baby, drill” inevitably leads to “spill, baby, spill.” All six West Coast Senators and almost all West Coast House Members support this common-sense bill.

Ocean-based economies on the West Coast, primarily tourism and fishing, generate nearly $32 billion in revenue and employ nearly 600,000 people. We value that economic activity as much as we value our precious coastline. A few months more of dirty oil is not worth the risk, especially when our security and competitiveness in the 21st century depends on clean energy technology manufactured in America.

Like the junkie on the street, our addiction to oil further fuels our habit and robs us of opportunity — the opportunity to develop the solar, wind, geothermal and other clean technologies our economy needs. That’s why we support a return to the Congressional moratorium on all new oil leases on the West Coast and across America.

For more than 20 years, from 1988 to 2008, through both Republican and Democratic control of Congress and the White House, a moratorium was in place that protected federal waters from new offshore oil drilling. Before “drill, baby, drill” was all the rage at the Republican National Convention two years ago, President George H.W. Bush, himself a Texas oil man, established an executive moratorium on new oil and gas leasing and drilling. Until 2008, when President George W. Bush lifted the executive moratorium, there was consensus between both parties during their time in the White House that our precious oceanic and coastal resources had to be protected from the scourge of offshore oil drilling.

Climate change and global economic competition require us to green our economy. Clean, renewable sources of energy are our inevitable future, and the longer we drag our feet, the more our economy slips to the back of the pack. We can drill and spill our economy into decline, or we can invest in the renewable energy sources that will determine the victors of 21st century economic development. We hope this great nation makes the right choice.

Reps. John Garamendi and Sam Farr are California Democrats.

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