Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer
is a champion of environmental protection and
energy reform, which makes her doubly supportive of new legislation that she introduced in the Senate at the end of January. The West Coast Ocean Protection Act would permanently prohibit new offshore drilling along the Pacific coastline of the United States. A West Coast cadre of Boxer's colleagues in the Senate joined her in presenting the legislation: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
This is not the first legislative attempt to protect the Pacific coast from drilling. The West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010
was introduced to the 111th Congress last May by Representative John Garamendi
(D-Calif.), and in the Senate by Boxer, but bounced to the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, where it languished until the end of that session of Congress. So the fight for a drill-free zone on the West Coast continues, but in a new, post-election Congress that has a different distribution of voting power.
Both WCOP Acts aim to amend legislation that determines how and for what purpose coastal territory, known as the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), is used. The OCS Lands Act, passed in 1953, defines the OCS as "all submerged lands lying seaward of State coastal waters (three miles offshore) which are under U.S. jurisdiction." The Secretary of the Interior (currently Ken Salazar) controls what happens in the OCS, and guides activity "in an effort to prevent waste and conserve natural resources and to grant leases to the highest responsible qualified bidder as determined by competitive bidding procedures," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
In 1978, the OCS Lands Act was amended to recognize and regulate the environmental impact on areas of proposed activity, be it drilling for oil or installing and operating wind turbines — though most of the alternative energy technologies that could involve the OCS, such as harnessing ocean current energy
, are still in early stages of development. In reality, most leasing activity taking place today is oil- and gas-related.
Also a reality is the recent BP Deepwater Horizon accident, and the resulting oil spill of epic proportions. The negative impacts of the Gulf oil spill on citizens, local economies and industries, and the tragic environmental damage to the Gulf's ecosystem, have affected OCS decisions from federal agencies such as the Department of the Interior (DOI
, EPA and others
. The DOI does not have any sales scheduled for the Pacific OCS through 2012, and reports that the Obama administration is currently drafting a 2012-2017 leasing program that "will be developed based on science, environmental analysis, public input, safety and other important considerations."
The L.A. Times
points out that currently the Pacific OCS is only protected by President Obama's revision to the DOI five-year plan, and that the Senators proposing the WCOP Act hope to make coastal lands secure in a more permanent way. Ultimately, this looks to be a familiar clash of ideologies, between those who say, "Drill, baby, drill," and those who insist we need to look toward a cleaner energy future, to ensure environmental protection and
as a national security issue. A co-sponsor of the WCOP Act, Senator Maria Cantwell
, says, "More offshore drilling will not lower gasoline prices or reduce our nation's dangerous overreliance on foreign oil, which is why we should be focusing on the promising clean energy alternatives that are better for consumers and can provide long-term sustainable solutions to America's energy needs."