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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Thayer’



Kaboom! And a Happy Earth Day to You, Too!

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

It may be a tad early to assess the political impacts of the explosion and sinking of an BP oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, but it seems safe to say that the horrific images of the disaster won’t speed up the cause of the controversial Tranquillon Ridge project in California.

The strange bedfellow alliance among and between Governor Arnold, several Santa Barbara environmental groups and the Houston-based oil company PXP recently re-launched their effort to resurrect the project, after it was turned down by the State Lands Commission and the Legislature last year.

Now, the metastasizing oil spill*** in the Gulf of Mexico, and the apparent loss of the lives of at least 11 oil workers that followed a blow-out on a rig on Tuesday night – Earth Day – provide a sudden and grim reminder of the high stakes of offshore drilling.

The T-Ridge plan calls for the lands commission to award PXP a lease to drill in state waters, the first since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, from an existing platform in federal waters. Environmentalists on both sides of the internecine warfare over the issue insist that their position represents the  best way to prevent more spills like that now engulfing the Gulf.

In the move that split old alliances and fractured California’s environmental community, local groups in Santa Barbara have pushed the T-Ridge plan as a way to trade more drilling in the short run for less in the long run, exchanging their political support for a PXP lease to slant drill into state waters for the oil company’s legal promise – which they insist is ironclad – to cease all drilling from four federal platforms in the area within 14 years.

Amid all the political, legal and financial wrangling over the issue for the past two years, it’s hard to imagine a more powerful argument against  drilling than that presented by pictures of firefighters vainly battling the deadly and violent blaze that sunk the oil rig. It’s worth noting that the T-Ridge platform is located just over three miles from shore, far closer to land than the  Deepwater Horizon rig that sank about 50  miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Many backers of the governor’s proposal have argued that oil drilling operations have undergone huge technological advancements in the past 40 years, making unlikely a massive spill like that poisoned the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969.

Among those who have embraced the technology-makes-it-safe argument are Republican wannabe governor Steve Poizner and his front-running rival, Meg Whitman.

“When I started this process, I was against offshore oil drilling,” Whitman told reporters in Santa Barbara last year, “and then I began to understand deeply the new technology that is available to extract oil from existing wells.”

For the record, Jerry Brown does not support the T-Ridge proposal. As Attorney General, and the lawyer for the State Lands Commission, Brown’s staff recommended that the commission reject PXP’s project last year. As a candidate, Brown “does not believe off-shore drilling is the answer to our problems,” said campaign flack Sterling Clifford.

*Update: Early fears of huge spill may be unfounded.

**Update II (4/24): Now they’ve found an underwater leak a senior Coast Guard official describes as “a game changer.”

***Update III (4/27): Spill now 40 miles X 50 miles - so much for “unfounded” fears.

****Update IV (4/29): Send in the Marines.

FYI: The Associated Press reports “Since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires and explosions in the gulf, according to the Minerals Management Service. ”

Weed whacker alert: In order to jump start the T-Ridge proposal, PXP needs to file a new application for a hearing before the lands commission and, so far, has not done so, SLC executive officer Paul Thayer told Calbuzz.

Thayer said that the commission staff, analyzed a revised version of the agreement between PXP and the Environmental Defense Center several months ago. The commission rejected the original proposal last year and still has problems with it, despite some improvements, he said.

The “beneficial aspect” of the new agreement it reviewed is that it strengthens the state’s ability to intervene legally if PXP does not honor its terms, he said. But the final authority over end dates for drilling from facilities in federal waters still rests with the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service, not the state: “Ultimately, MMS controls what’s going on out there.”

Thayer also cited the “precedental value” of the existing 41-year old prohibition against any new drilling leases in state waters, which has been in force since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill.

“California’s congressional delegation has made use of that,” in fighting against expansion of drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, he said.

P.S. Kudos to KQED’s John Myers for getting Abel Maldonado on the record about his stance on T-Ridge this week, in advance of his confirmation vote for lieutenant governor, a post from which he gets a deciding vote on the project on the lands commission.

Live from the California Nurses Association: Queen Meg!

The latest in guerrilla theater from the CNA, Queen Meg, escorts, a horse-drawn carriage and a proclamation that reads:
“In honor of her $150 million campaign treasury, the people of California do hereby crown Meg Whitman as Queen Meg of California.  Her husband Griffith Harsh IV is crowned Prince Griffith of Palo Alto, and the Whitman-Harsh royal motto shall be ‘Healthcare for the nobility, Education for the few, Prisons for all.’”

New Secret Offshore Deal, AB32 Rollback Brawl

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

In the latest twist in the Tranquillon Ridge saga, Calbuzz has learned that PXP oil company and its environmental allies have submitted a new proposed agreement to the State Lands Commission aimed at authorizing expanded drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara.

Our efforts to learn how the new proposal differs from an earlier version, which the commission rejected last year, were unsuccessful, however, because neither the parties nor the commission would release a copy, saying the document is a draft, and the deal is still under review. (Our all-you-need-to-know primer on T-Ridge is here).

“We signed a confidentiality agreement,” Paul Thayer, Executive Officer of the Lands Commission, told us. “They want to get our reaction to it. It’s being reviewed at a staff level, and we’ve also asked the (Attorney General’s) office to look at it.”

The previous PXP-EDC agreement, reached in 2008, was kept secret until Calbuzz obtained a copy and published the document. At a time when controversy is still simmering over elements of the first agreement, key opponents of the project are unhappy with the news that an amended version of the proposed deal is, at least for now, being kept confidential.

“I’m disappointed that PXP and EDC are going down the same failed road,” said Democratic Assemblyman Pedro Nava, whose district adjoins the proposed new drilling. “Whatever the new agreement says, apparently both PXP and EDC believe it can’t stand public scrutiny and so they are hiding it.”

“PXP likes to claim some kind of oil company executive privilege,” he added.

As a political matter, the secrecy of the first agreement played a key role, both in its defeat before the commission, and in the widespread opposition to the T-Ridge deal generated among other environmental groups.

When Calbuzz disclosed the text of that agreement, representatives of both PXP and the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center told us they were working on a second version, aimed at addressing various concerns that commissioners expressed in voting against the plan last year. Both organizations said that the amended agreement would be made public.

“No, it is not final yet,” Linda Krop, chief counsel for the EDC, emailed us when we asked for a copy of the new agreement.

“We have nothing to hide,” said Scott Winters, a spokesman for PXP. “Once the agreement is final, we will release to the public.”

“Substantial amendments have been added to clarify the enforceability concerns raised by the State Lands Commission (SLC) staff and members of the environmental community,” Winters added in email responses to our questions.

Thayer said the Commission’s review of the proposal was conditioned on keeping its contents confidential.

Nava said the Commission’s willingness to enter into a confidentiality agreement with an applicant “certainly piques my interest.”

“I’ll be inquiring into the terms and conditions under which (SLC) entered into such an agreement.”

Weed whacker alert: PXP’s Winters said that release of the new agreement depended entirely on when the lands commission scheduled another hearing on the project.

“As of right now, the SLC has not calendared this matter for a re-hearing. PXP’s hope is that the SLC will move expeditiously to hold a re-hearing,” he said. “The sooner the SLC schedules a hearing, the sooner the public will have another chance to consider the benefits offered by the project to discuss whether approval is in fact in the best interest of the state.”

We asked Thayer when PXP might get a new hearing in front of the commission. He said it depended on whether they filed a new application for the project, or requested a rehearing on their previous application. A new application would require staff to review it within 30 days, and commissioners to act in 180 or fewer days, he said. But PXP has asked for a faster method to gain approval, such as a rehearing. “We’ve never done one,” Thayer said, adding that the staff is investigating the possibility of such a procedure.

Jerry Blasted on AB32: The folks behind the movement to suspend AB32, California’s historic climate-change legislation, are furious at Attorney General Jerry Brown for the ballot title he has assigned to what they were hoping to sell as the “California Jobs Initiative.”

Crusty’s title:

Suspends air pollution control laws requiring major polluters to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming until unemployment drops below specified level for full year.

(Which is a little like titling the initiative to legalize marijuana as follows: Ushers in an era of human kindness and peace on earth through availability of non-toxic and eco-friendly natural substances).

The anti-AB32 initiative is backed by Assemblyman Dan Logue of Chico and U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock,  Ted Costa and others who argue the legislation is a job killer – as Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner also contend.

Score round one for Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, who has hired our old pal Steve Maviglio to manage the opposition.

As a political matter, Brown has hardly been neutral about AB32. In fact, when he was on KGO Radio last week he referred to people opposing the measure as “Neanderthals . . . who want to turn the clock backwards.”

Here’s the dilemma for business interests who’d like to chip in to kill AB32:

1) this is likely the only legacy achievement Gov. Schwarzmuscle has going for him and he’s not going to be happy with people who try to kill it and 2) with a ballot summary like that, who’s going to vote to give a break to “major polluters”?

You never know. Maybe eMeg or the Commish will toss in a few million to the effort and campaign for it. Of course, we think it will backfire in a general election, but hey, stranger things have happened in California politics.

GOP ratfuck update: As close readers will recall, an online firefight broke out last December between Chip Hanlon, proprietor of the Red County web sites, and Aaron Park (formerly known as Sgt. York),  who was one of his bloggers. When Hanlon fired Park/York for secretly being on Steve Poizner’s payroll, we gave Hanlon a hat tip for “canning Sgt. York and disclosing the matter to his readers.”

Given what we knew then, it made sense to note that, “At a time when ethical blogging is too often an oxymoron, it’s nice to see somebody step up to defend his credibility.”

Since then, we’ve learned more, which colors our HT just a bit: It seems that buried deep in eMeg’s campaign finance report is a $20,000 disbursement to Green Faucet LLC, which is an investment firm owned by Chip Hanlon and also the parent company of his Red County web sites. The payment was made about a week after Hanlon fired Park, the erstwhile, paid Poizner sock puppet.

Hanlon tells us this was a straight-up business exchange: eMeg bought advertising on his web sites. And sure enough, her ads are there. But we spoke with another advertiser on Red County who’s paying about $300 a month – closer to the going rate for small political sites – for equivalent exposure on Red County sites. Which suggests the $20K from eMeg could be a big, fat subsidy to Hanlon – not much different than the $2,500 a month Park was getting from Poizner (and which, he says, eMeg’s people tried to match).

All of which raises questions about the use of web site commentary by MSM media, like when the Mercury News recently called on Matt Cunningham, a featured Red County blogger, to comment on Poizner’s charge that eMeg’s consultant had tried to bribe him out of the governor’s race. If you really want to get into the internecine Orange County GOP rat-fucking, you can catch up to the action here and here and here.

(Memo to eMeg Marketing Dept: Our New York-based, commission-paid advertising staff would be well pleased to get $20K for ads on Calbuzz. Hell, they’d even take $300 a month like Poizner is paying for his ad on the page. Plenty of free parking.)