Meg Whitman says the disastrous oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has caused her to change her position on offshore oil drilling in California, adding that she no longer is certain technology can make it safe.
“Right now, I’m a ‘no’ on offshore oil drilling,” Whitman told Calbuzz.
In an interview on Thursday, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor said the economic and environmental damage inflicted by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the huge gush of undersea oil that has followed convinced her to shift her stance on drilling off the coast of California. Again.
Last year, she stated that she began her campaign for governor as an opponent of drilling off the coast, but subsequently learned more about new technologies, which she had come to believe all but eliminated the risks of offshore extraction: ”When I started this process, I was against offshore oil drilling, and then I began to understand deeply the new technology that is available to extract oil from existing wells,” she said last summer.
But in this week’s interview with Calbuzz, Whitman said she has changed that position:
Historically I was against offshore oil drilling, but I am the living example of someone who believes technology can enable you to do things you’d never dream you could do. So I wanted to look into slant drilling…and convene a group to say, you know, ‘is this possible to do with zero to minimal environmental risk?’
I will say what has happened in Louisiana I think has raised the bar on what, you know, technology is going to be able to have to do, and what we can assure ourselves of. Because, gosh, you look at what has happened in the Gulf, the economic devastation of the shrimpers, the fishermen. I mean you’re starting to see it now go on the north shore of the coast of Florida there, the hospitality industry is at risk.
So I think it has absolutely raised the bar in terms of what we would need to feel comfortable with to go forward. So right now, I’m a no on offshore oil drilling.
Following a town hall meeting in Santa Barbara, Whitman in our interview also discussed several other key issues:
Taxes – A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday included new data on how voters feel about taxes: 62% of those surveyed said they would favor a state income tax increase for the wealthiest people in California; 58% said they would support higher taxes on corporations; solid majorities said they would consider a tax increase to pay for K-12 education (69%), higher education (54%) and health and human services (54%).
“It doesn’t influence my thinking,” Whitman answered, when asked whether such majority views would affect her policies as governor. “My view is we should not be raising taxes on anyone in California.”
Asked what she would say to parents of students at public schools that are losing teachers and small class size programs, and who are willing to pay higher taxes for schools, she added:
I’d say we have a philosophical disagreement on how to right the economy in California…I mean, I don’t think people really do understand that a 12.6 percent unemployment rate not only has tax revenues decreasing, it has costs going through the roof. It’s the worst of all possible worlds – you’ve got a financial pincer – revenues going down and costs going up so we’ve got to get Californians back to work and then we’ve got to eliminate another $15 billion of costs out of that budget.
Spending – The $15 billion figure is what Whitman claims, with slim evidence, can be rooted out in “waste, fraud and abuse” in state government, a task she has said she will assign a “statewide grand jury” to investigate. She acknowledged in the interview that she would need the support of the Legislature to pass a measure to authorize such a body, which she said should contain 18 members. She offered this elaboration:
We’d fill those 18 spots from the grand jury pool in the 58 counties that have a fully vetted grand jury pool, and then this grand jury would be convened. The Inspector General* would identify issues of fraud and waste and abuse. Serve some of that up to the grand jury who would then have the power to indict and subpoena.
Immigration – Last year, Whitman said during a visit to the California-Mexico border that illegal immigrants “should do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization.” GOP rival Steve Poizner has used her comment to portray eMeg as a supporter of amnesty for illegals; “path to legalization” is a phrase used by supporters of comprehensive immigration reform which opponents say is code for “amnesty.”
Confronted with her earlier statement, Whitman insisted she was not signaling support for amnesty, offering this explanation:
In my view, that was not a statement in support of amnesty…What I was referring to, which has been taken out of context, is I was referring to a guest worker program, I was talking about agriculture; that we had to find a way to have a stable work force for agriculture, and that I have never been for amnesty, I was not for amnesty at the time and you know (Poizner) has chosen to jump on this issue.
Poizner – Whitman had harsh words for her Republican foe, whom she accused of twisting her words:
As you know, Steve Poizner has not been on the illegal immigration issue before about six weeks ago.** I mean, this is sheer political opportunism. He has not been to the border as a candidate until six weeks ago, he never talked about this as insurance commissioner, in fact he was on the other side of this issue when he ran for Assembly (in 2004), he was in fact in favor of (former President) Bush’s comprehensive immigration reform, which many people thought had amnesty in it. so this is the classic case of someone willing to say or do anything to get elected.
*The Office of Inspector General, now held by Laura Chick, was created specifically to oversee the spending of federal stimulus funds in California. Whitman’s proposal would involve an expansion of those duties.
**Poizner first raised the issue of illegal immigration in a big way at the Republican state convention on March 12, although he previously had discussed it in interviews.