President Donald Trump may want to expand offshore oil drilling, but it’s no surprise he’s facing pushback in a region known for being one of the most at risk of climate change and where residents are increasingly turning to renewable energy.
San Mateo County officials are urging the federal government to keep protections in place for three national marine sanctuaries spanning the surrounding California coastline.
In an April executive order, Trump requested a review of all marine sanctuaries established or expanded within the last decade — which includes the 2015 expansions of the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, as well as the 2008 expansion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Explained as an “America-First” energy strategy, Trump seeks areas where offshore oil drilling could take place. But he will undoubtedly face vehement opposition from a region that places high value on its coastline.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution describing Trump’s action as an “unneeded and unwarranted intrusion into settled law” while defending the three sanctuaries as vital to the ecosystem and economy.
Board President Don Horsley, whose district includes the coast, noted the region has a strong history of progressive environmental policies.
“In the state of California, we’ve been fighting to preserve our coastside for decades now, and I don’t want to see any oil drilling on the coastside or the potential of oil spills,” Horsley said. “While the federal administration starts talking about expanding the drilling of oil and gas, we’re really concerned that’s not the way to go. We think it’s better to be looking at renewable sources like solar and wind.”
The county has opted to lead by example, establishing a joint powers authority known as Peninsula Clean Energy. The community choice aggregation program has residents automatically signed up to for receive 50 percent renewables from Pacific Gas and Electric, with options to chose up to 100 percent renewables.
Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, as well as a dozen Silicon Valley cities have all adopted community choice aggregation programs. California has also been a leader in the electric car industry, with robust rebates provided for those looking to ditch their gas-powered engines.
Bordered by both a Bayfront and coastside, San Mateo County has also been described as one of the most at risk of climate change impacts. Billions of dollars of public as well as private infrastructure such as homes, airports, office buildings and wastewater treatment plants line areas where seas are expected to rise, according to a county vulnerability assessment.
Aside from Trump’s orders signaling a regression from local efforts, there are also fears that offshore oil drilling could harm sensitive ecological habitat on which the state and fisheries rely.
The sanctuaries support dozens of marine mammal species, many of which can only thrive in a biologically-rich ecosystem. They’re also part of vital migratory routes for whales and birds that hold international significance, as well as an important breeding ground and forging area for numerous protected species, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Debbie Ruddock, Half Moon Bay’s mayor and legislative affairs coordinator for the California Coastal Conservancy, said offshore drilling is rich for hazards.
She noted some old wells continue to leak into sensitive habitat, closing beaches and harming wildlife.
“In California, we have a $50 billion coastal economy and the components of that are tourism, but also commercial fisheries,” Ruddock said. “Anything that might pollute our ocean waters like offshore ocean drilling has potentially devastating impacts to the state’s economy, including the San Mateo County economy. It’s been found marine sanctuaries and protected areas have been very successful in regenerating Pacific Coast fishery stock and helping increase the survival of marine animals.”
The public has until July 26 to offer comments following Trump’s executive order, and Ruddock urged people to make their voices heard.
The Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones national marine sanctuaries more than doubled in size following NOAA’s 2015 decision under former President Barack Obama. Cordell, which is located just north of San Francisco, expanded from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles. The Farallones, which stretch offshore from the northern tip of San Mateo County to Point Arena, was increased from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles, according to NOAA.
The Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary stretches from Marin to Cambria, protecting 6,094 square miles of marine habitat that was also expanded under former President George W. Bush in 2008. It was originally designated in 1992 and provides an abundance of wildlife such as 34 marine mammals, more than 180 species of birds and 525 species of fish, according to NOAA.
Federal protections were expanded to the areas after years of input and research, prompting officials to question Trump’s attempt to unravel designations in a region that places indefatigable importance on its coastline.
“California residents and our state’s economy depend on a clean and healthy ocean. The Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries protect our fishing communities, our tourism industry and the world-renowned beauty of our state,” U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said in an email. “Our sanctuaries are settled law and have broad public support. President Trump should leave them alone.”
Coastal Advocates Defend Marine Sanctuaries, by Samantha Weigel, The Daily Journal, July 15, 2017.