UPDATED 7/23 — SEE BELOW
John Garamendi was on the phone, sounding like his head was about to explode.
“The governor has just put the coastline up for sale,” he thundered. “Big oil has been sitting at the governor’s right hand throughout this administration.”
The object of the Lite Gov’s ire was the oft-discussed PXP/Tranquillon Ridge oil drilling project off the coast of Santa Barbara, one puzzle piece in the M.C. Escher budget agreement negotiated between Governor Arnold and legislative leaders.
While Garamendi ticked off a half-dozen specific objections to the deal, which will be presented to the Legislature as a budget trailer bill, there are three crucial political questions at stake, beyond the details of the specific proposal, that seem likely to reignite the long-settled debate about offshore drilling in the state:
1. Is the end date of the offshore project enforceable? Schwarzenegger insists that the PXP energy company, which would get a lease to slant drill into state waters from an existing platform in federal waters, would be required to stop drilling in 2022 under terms of the agreement. But Garamendi and his allies say there is no legal way for California to ensure this happens, because the federal government’s jurisdiction over the original federal lease on Platform Irene will trump the state’s.
2. How strong a signal is the state sending by awarding this lease? The governor and his allies insist that the PXP lease, the first that would be awarded by the state in four decades, is a one-time deal that applies to the existing site and no other. Garamendi counters that if California, long the nation’s strongest outpost of anti-drilling fervor, blinks now, it will set a powerful precedent that will make it open season for new offshore leases everywhere.
3. Is the environmental tradeoff worth the money? In exchange for the lease, the state is supposed to collect about $1.8 billion in royalties over the life of the lease, with a $100 million advance on that amount flowing in the current fiscal year. Garamendi and the anti-drilling brigade say this is chump change; far preferable would be to slap a severance tax on all oil production in California, as every other state does, which would generate many more billions without any new leases.
That the PXP deal has much broad political implications well beyond this lease was quickly demonstrated, when our friends at California Weekly obtained a copy of a memo about the overall budget deal, prepared by Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth for his caucus, telling them that it was essential that the GOP prevent Kip Lipper, key aide to Democratic Senate president Darrell Steinberg from drafting the language for the trailer bill authorizing the Tranquillon Ridge deal: “T-ridge is in (we have to keep Kip [Lipper] from writing it so it’s impossible [to stop]).”
“There’s going to be considerable opposition” to the trailer bill, Garamendi said. “We’re going to do everything we can to forestall it.”
UPDATE: 5 PM
John Burton, Democratic state party chair, considerably raised the political stakes on the Tranquillon Ridge drilling deal by sending out an email urging Democrats to pressure legislators to vote against the “sweetheart deal.”
“This proposal is an affront to all Californians and we must urge lawmakers to vote it down,” Burton write. “This sweetheart deal for one oil company was negotiated behind closed doors, without any legislative hearings to allow public comment.”
Beyond the key political points about the deal enumerated above, Burton also says it’s crucial for Democrats to oppose the project to prevent the governor from hijacking the authority of the State Lands Commission over offshore leases, and puts in a plug for overturning the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget.
“The offshore drilling plan does not solve either this year’s budget problems or systemic problems,” he says. Burton’s full statement is HERE.
UPDATE: 5 PM 7/23
As coastal protection groups increased the political pressure on legislators to vote against the offshore project, Environment California, an L.A.-based organization, put together a cool online ad on the subject, featuring a montage of Gov. Arnold’s past statements in opposition to drilling. It’s here.