Offshore oil drilling debated in SF

April 16, 2009 7:42:25 PM PDT
The debate over drilling for oil off of the California coast came to San Francisco as opponents and supporters appeared before the new head of the Interior Department, Secretary Ken Salazar.

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Thursday's hearing was one of four held around the country. It was billed as a chance for the secretary of the interior to hear what people think about oil drilling on the outer Continental Shelf.

Secretary Salazar said he wanted to hear from all sides, but all sides didn't have a voice.

Outside the hearing, offshore drilling opponents held a rally dressed in costumes and listened to speakers representing environmental organizations. Inside, the hearing was dominated by elected officials -- most of them from California -- and all of them expressed the same point of view.

"Some other states may feel differently. Our state clearly is saying to you today 'no,'" said Democratic Senator Boxer of California.

To the applause of most in the audience, representatives took their turn.

"This shimmering band of coast must be protected," said Democratic Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Santa Rosa.

"We cannot afford to sacrifice the long-term health of the environment for short-term economic or political goals or interests," said Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland.

For a couple of hours, Salazar listened to elected officials from the local, state and federal level. By the time public citizens were called on, there was time for only four.

Van Bivans from Goleta asked that the secretary at least consider offshore drilling.

"And keep the lease options open for the 2010-2015 plan," said Bivans.

Everyone else was opposed, except for one oil industry spokesman who said there are 10 billion barrels of oil off California's coast.

"If we could produce those and bring them to market that would allow us to replace California's foreign imports for 35 years," said Joe Sparano from Western States Petroleum Association.

Secretary Salazar listened, but left 15 minutes later to explain to reporters why he's holding these hearings.

"As you all know, when I came into office on January 21st, one of the things that I was handed was a five-year plan that was published right in that week," said Salazar.

As Salazar explained, it was a parting shot from the Bush administration; opening up large areas for oil exploration in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific and off the coast of Alaska.

"It was important for me to come to each of the four regions because I wanted to hear from the people," said Salazar.

Secretary Salazar is still studying the issues and has not made a determination on what to do with the Bush proposal.

But Senator Boxer praised his judgment and said she believed she was preaching to the choir.

"President Bush, in his last days, he set the ball rolling, so they have to come out here and they have to listen and they have to make a decision on whether to reverse what the Bush administration wanted to do," said Sen. Boxer.

When Secretary Salazar left at noon, so did 90 percent of the people who came to the hearing, leaving those who wanted to speak in favor of drilling a little frustrated.

"They're billing these things as honest hearings, but frankly it looks like the fix is in a little bit," said Tim Phillips from Americans for Prosperity.

It does look like that, not unlike when the Bush administration was in power. Votes have consequences and the tide has turned against "drill baby drill."

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