In summary

In a move that harkens back to environmental battles of decades past, a broad array of state officials are voicing opposition to the Trump administration’s review of whether to open four national marine sanctuaries off the California coast for oil and gas drilling.

In a move that harkens back to environmental battles of decades past, a broad array of state officials are voicing opposition to the Trump administration’s review of whether to open four national marine sanctuaries off the California coast for oil and gas drilling.

The president’s executive order, the ‘America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,’ directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to examine national marine sanctuaries and monuments designated or expanded in the last ten years for their suitability for drilling. Four California sites, 3,500 square miles of protected coastal waters, are under review: Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay.

The Sonoma County coast in northern California IMAGE BY Don McCullough

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, often tasked with pushing back against administration policies, issued a statement yesterday condemning the action that could allow energy exploration in “thriving but fragile ecosystems.”

“Our marine sanctuaries matter, and I will fight to ensure they are protected for future generations,” Becerra said.

The Trump administration has ordered similar reviews to national monuments, deciding whether to shrink their size or even dropped their protections altogether. It’s not clear whether the oil and gas industry has any interest in offshore drilling, which would likely be hugely unpopular.

Many Californians still have memories of the massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara that despoiled beaches and killed wildlife. The area was hit again in 2015, when a pipeline failure sent more than 140,000 of crude oil onto the beach at Refugio State Park.

Even though the state has no jurisdiction over energy exploration in U.S. waters, some lawmakers have vowed to make such operations more difficult and costly to operators by proposing legislation that, while not stopping the drilling outright, would make it more expensive for companies to operate and could limit the volume of oil shipped at a time when the low price per barrel is already discouraging new exploration.

The review is scheduled to be completed by the end of October.

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Julie Cart joined CalMatters as a projects and environment reporter in 2016 after a long career at the Los Angeles Times, where she held many positions: sportswriter, national correspondent and environment...