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West Coast senators push Pacific shore drilling ban

January 25, 2011 |  4:03 pm

Plainsoil

Democratic senators from the California, Oregon and Washington state launched a new drive Tuesday to ban drilling off the Pacific coast but face long odds of getting the bill past the House’s new Republican majority, especially at a time of high gasoline prices.

The bill’s sponsors cited the economic and environmental risks of offshore drilling highlighted by last year’s Gulf of Mexico spill. “One of the lessons learned from the disastrous BP oil spill is that without a fundamental transformation of the oil industry, another spill is possible, even likely," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), one of the sponsors.

A long-standing congressional ban on new Pacific offshore oil drilling expired in late 2008 as high gasoline prices became a hot political issue. Currently, the Pacific Coast is only protected by President Obama’s pledge that there will be no new offshore drilling, Cantwell said. The legislation, she said, would enact a permanent moratorium into law that could not be overturned at the whim of a future administration.

The bill could become part of an effort to pass new environmental safeguards for offshore drilling, a higher liability cap for spill damages and other measures in response to last year's spill. But even that effort has faced strong resistance in Congress from pro-production lawmakers who say it would increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil and threaten jobs.

Cantwell said, however: "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.”

“We cannot afford to put California’s coastal economy at risk by drilling offshore," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a statement.  

-- Richard Simon, in Washington

Photo: A Plains Exploration & Production Co. platform off California's shores. Credit: Chip Chipman / Bloomberg

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