Politics being politics and California being California, it was not totally surprising to see a perfectly sensible deal between environmentalists and the oil industry go down the tubes late last month.
The State Land Board’s decision to reject a proposal by Plains Petroleum to abandon four offshore platforms and an unsightly refinery in return for drilling rights on one field known as Tranquillon Ridge fell into an ugly trap that exemplifies what’s wrong with California.
Voting against the plan were two statewide elected officials, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and Controller John Chaing, who clearly harbor bigger political ambitions. The easy call for them was to echo staff objections and conclude there just weren’t enough guarantees that Plains would actually do what it promised to do.
Nevermind that a slew of local politicians, with the exception of assemblymember Pedro Nava, had signed off on the deal. Nevermind that there was the power of public opinion to press Plains to do the right thing when the Tranquillon field runs out in 20 years.
Nava, who has been mentioned as a candidate for attorney general after he terms out, can claim a victory. He, Garamendi and company can perhaps get credit for realizing that any drilling in federal waters off California would give the oil industry a big PR victory in what is the birthplace of the environmental movement.
But U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, county supervisors and the broad coalition that supported the Tranquillon Ridge deal are actually on the right side of history. First and foremost, it is the right thing to do for the environment and for restoring the natural beauty of the Gaviota Coast.
Second, and also very important, this is a deal that would have put a tremendous amount of money into the coffers of state and local government at a time when both are broke.
Finally, this is a deal that, if it were to be approved, might just herald the beginnings of a true post-partisan era in environmental, California and national politics. Its defeat is politics at its worst, not at its best, in California and within the Democratic Party.
The stakes are really big in Tranquillon Ridge. The key players should regroup, toughen up the exit standards for Plains Petroleum and go back before the Land Board.
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