Protestors wearing dolphin, shark and polar bear costumes joined the throngs who descended on Sacramento Thursday to speak out against the Trump administration’s proposal to expand oil drilling in federal waters off the California coast.
After a rally outside the state Capitol they marched to a library a few blocks away where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted the sole public meeting on the proposal in California. The agency is holding one meeting in each coastal state.
The format frustrated some attendees. Instead of the typical government hearing where long lines of people wait to comment at a microphone, visitors were directed to mill about a large room where federal employees were stationed at about a dozen tables. They explained different aspects of the national offshore drilling program—how leases are approved, how much money it brings to the U.S. economy, how the government responds to and tries to prevent oil spills—and answered questions from the public. A table with computers and comment cards was available for visitors to formally submit comments to the government.
But environmentalists—many wearing blue shirts saying “Californians against offshore drilling”—had traveled from around the state to attend the meeting and craved an opportunity to sound off.
“That one table? For hundreds of people?” Sharolyn Hutton of Eureka said, looking at the computer table set up for public comment.
At one point a few protestors began shouting in the middle of the room, “This is ridiculous! This is shameful!”
John Romero, spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the format was meant to provide more meaningful dialogue between the public and the government.
A representative from the Western States Petroleum Association stopped by the meeting. He noted that Californians use almost 2 million barrels of oil each day. “We want to make sure folks understand our enormous energy consumption here,” said Bob Poole, the associations director of production.
The oil association president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, issued a statement saying that the exploration of potential drilling sites in federal water “is the first step in helping California increase our energy security through potentially increasing our domestic energy production. Currently, we import over 1 million barrels of oil in super tankers from overseas locations each and every day.”
California’s elected officials have already made clear that they oppose more drilling off the coast and will try to block it by making it difficult to transport oil through state waters, which extend three miles off the coast. With bipartisan support the Assembly passed a resolution Thursday criticizing the Trump Administration plan and the State Lands Commission, which oversees oil drilling in state waters, sent the federal government a letter this week saying it is “vehemently opposed” to more oil and gas drilling in the Pacific ocean.