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Oil-drilling proposal taking environmental heat

July 23, 2009 |  2:57 pm

Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers are mobilizing against a state budget proposal that would allow the first new oil drilling off the California coast in 40 years.

“We’re getting ready for war,” said Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), who opposes the plan.      

Environment California, an advocacy group, has blitzed its 150,000-strong e-mail list asking for action and put together a YouTube video of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s past opposition to oil drilling.

Dan Jacobson, the group’s legislative director, said his goal is to have the project removed from the budget. “Let’s go back to the drawing board,” he said.

A coalition of 53 environmental groups has announced its opposition to the drilling’s inclusion in the budget. The organizations are up in arms about the plan, agreed upon by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature’s four leaders, to approve drilling off Santa Barbara in exchange for $100 million in royalties in the coming year.

The deal would bring in an estimated $1.8 billion over the next 14 years, with the oil platform removed at that time.

A similar proposal was rejected this year by the State Lands Commission despite some environmental support. The budget deal would essentially circumvent that independent panel.

Lisa Page, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, called the proposal a “win-win.”

“It will bring in new revenues to the state and it will speed up the permanent removal of drilling platforms off the Santa Barbara coast,” she said.

But Nava said opposition in the Legislature is mounting and he has been “encouraged” by his Democratic colleagues’ responses. Most Republicans say they support the drilling, but Nava hopes Assembly GOP leader Sam Blakeslee, who represents a coastal district near San Luis Obispo, will oppose the plan. “It would not be supported by most of the people in his district,” Nava said.

Still, Nava called GOP support a “foregone conclusion.”

The bill needs a majority of each house -- 41 votes in the Assembly and 21 in the Senate -- to pass. That means a minimum of 18 Democrats must vote "aye."

“Every member is free to vote their conscience on the bill,“ Nava said, “and I’m trying to make sure their conscience tells them no.”

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento