In summary

We cannot sit idly by as oil and gas corporations desecrate our beaches with a product that fuels the climate crisis.

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By Alex Lohman, Special to CalMatters

Alex Lohman Is an attorney for Children’s Law Center of California and assistant professor of political science at California State University, Long Beach. She lives in Long Beach and is passionate about our oceans as a beach lover and paddle enthusiast.

To hear yet another oil spill is now destroying our coastline, and the ocean life living within it, is infuriating. 

I grew up in Southern California. To me, it was always the gold standard: California, with beautiful cities adorning our beautiful beaches – and politically, always the first to take new stances toward progressive environmental policies. 

When I left California to continue my education and start my legal career as an attorney for youth in foster care in cities across the Midwest and East Coast, I touted Southern California as being the prettiest, the greenest and the best. 

When I moved back home with my husband, a fellow beach lover from South Florida to a place just a few minutes from Seal Beach and a short drive down to Huntington Beach, I promised him the California shores were impossible to beat. 

Unintentionally, I broke that promise to him. 

The morning after we arrived in Southern California, I asked my husband to get in the car so I could take him for a famous breakfast burrito and show him the beautiful beaches of our new home. As we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, he remarked on the strangeness of the oil rigs and marine construction out to sea – developments absent from the Florida coast that he was used to. 

After 10 years away from California, it was startling to now see these iron giants encroaching on the coastline’s natural beauty. It was normal to see the rigs when I was a kid, but now that I’ve seen other coastlines ornamented with nothing but white sand and waves, I’m realizing just how damaging this industry is to our ocean life.

The massive oil spill stretched across Huntington Beach and beyond. Our dolphins, shore birds and other sea life struggle to escape the suffocating and deadly reaches of this disaster. 

It angers me that my nieces – ages 2 and 4 – are living in an age where polluter-caused catastrophes are just a normal part of life. With the frequency of oil spills and lack of corporate accountability for them, I fear that the young people in my life will only know the ocean by observing it on the other side of thick glass in a zoo or aquarium, rather than in the natural habitat I’ve known and loved my entire life.

The ramifications these corporations face for their destruction are little more than a slap on the wrist, an insult to the communities left to clean up their messes. From my work as an attorney representing children and adults in the American criminal system, I have seen low-level drug offenses prosecuted with more vigor than corporate malfeasance and the destruction of our environment. Where is the justice in that? 

We cannot sit idly by as oil and gas corporations continue to desecrate our beaches in the pursuit of a product that fuels the climate crisis – all while jeopardizing our health and the environment. No coastal community should have to shoulder the toxic consequences of the oil and gas industry, especially now that greener and cleaner power options like solar and wind are available, which also encourage well-paid jobs and new technological advancements. 

The Biden administration must correct this harmful approach to managing the country’s public lands and oceans by reducing the number and size of offshore oil and gas leases offered. Congress should also take immediate action to permanently protect our treasured beaches in Southern California and throughout the nation by banning offshore oil and gas drilling.  

I inadvertently broke a promise to my husband, but in reality, the government is continuously – and intentionallybreaking a promise to us. Our leaders must take aggressive, affirmative action to protect our oceans from corporate greed. They must stop putting a price tag on the future of our oceans, and instead, allow our communities to enjoy and coexist with them. 

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