Energy & Environment

California Democrats blast offshore drilling in oil spill’s wake

Greg Nash

Several California Democrats are calling for limiting or halting offshore drilling in the wake of a major oil spill off the state’s coast this weekend.

The 126,000 gallon spill prompted beach closures and reached coastal wetlands that are home to migratory birds. 

In the wake of the spill, Democrats rebuked offshore drilling and the oil industry, and House Democrats’ campaign arm used it to slam one area Republican. 

The new spotlight on the drilling, meanwhile, comes as Congress weighs a proposal to limit the practice as part of major infrastructure legislation. 

“The oil spill off the coast of Orange County reiterates the perils of offshore drilling,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

“This spill highlights why we must also take action to prevent future spills, including passing the West Coast Ocean Protection Act. Our bill would permanently ban oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington,” she added. 

The state’s junior senator, Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), tweeted that the practice should end. 

“We’ve seen time and time again how damaging offshore oil spills are to our coastal ecosystems as well as to our economy. We have the power to prevent future spills—that’s why I’m committed to ending offshore oil drilling,” Padilla wrote. 

The spill came from a pipeline off the southern California coast and impacted areas including Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. 

It falls near a district represented by Republican Rep. Michelle Steel, who last year flipped a seat that was previously held by Democrat Harley Rouda. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released a statement criticizing Steel in the wake of the spill. 

“Orange County voters deserve to enjoy their beaches without fear of hospitalization. Michelle Steel’s toxic relationship with the fossil fuel industry is harming tourism, killing local wildlife, and endangering OC beachgoers,” said a statement from Adrian Eng-Gastelum, a spokesperson for the group. 

Steel spokesperson Danielle Stewart pushed back on the criticism in an email to The Hill. 

“While Michelle has spent the weekend engaged with local leaders, keeping the public informed on this crisis, and requesting a major disaster declaration from a silent Biden Administration, DCCC staffers inside the Beltway are doing what they do best — sending political emails just to score points off of a tragedy in Orange County — pathetic,” Stewart said. 

In the aftermath of the spill, the lawmaker called on the White House for a disaster declaration. 

Asked whether the Biden administration is considering an emergency declaration, press secretary Jen Psaki deferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

“That would really be something typically that is requested by the governor and granted by FEMA, so I don’t have any updates on that,” she said. 

Some of Steel’s Democratic counterparts from nearby districts, meanwhile, criticized the oil industry. 

“Big Oil’s offshore drilling puts the health of our communities, our local economies, and our planet at risk. Cleaning up this spill is not enough; we need to stop these disasters from happening in the first place. #NoMoreOffshoreDrilling,” tweeted Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.). 

The Democrats’ calls come as the House is weighing a proposal that would limit offshore drilling. 

The portion of the party’s $3.5 trillion spending bill that was put together by the House Natural Resources Committee would ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. 

But the future of the entire package remains uncertain as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) continue to question their colleagues’ efforts. 

Tags Alex Padilla California Dianne Feinstein Harley Rouda Jen Psaki Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Offshore drilling oil spill
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