California legislators have introduced a new bill that would forever ban offshore drilling in West Coast waters.

Announced by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the West Coast Ocean Protection Act would prohibit any oil or gas exploration, development or production in federally owned parts of the outer Continental Shelf near California, Oregon and Washington.

If passed, the law would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, a 1953 law that defines all submerged lands 3 nautical miles offshore to be under federal jurisdiction and therefore makes the U.S. responsible for both granting mineral extraction leases and setting regulations.

Feinstein said that in a time of a nationwide transition to cleaner energy, it is clear that offshore drilling and the danger it poses on the ocean is meant to stay in the past.

“The era of offshore oil and gas production in the Pacific is coming to a close,” said Feinstein.

California first began its efforts to ban offshore drilling in 1969, when an oil rig near Santa Barbara spilled 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, killing thousands of marine animals and leaving beaches slick with oil. The spill prompted the state to prohibit new drilling projects in state waters, and further reinforced the ban with the 1994 California Coastal Sanctuary Act.

Patches of crude oil cover the beach and seawall near the Santa Barbara Harbor in 1969 following an oil spill at an offshore drilling platform. The spill prompted California to ban future offshore drilling permits in state waters. (USGS/Wikipedia)

A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll determined that nearly 70 percent of Californians are opposed to offshore drilling. Huffman said science and public opinion are clear in their stance against the harm that offshore drilling brings to coastal communities, oceans and the planet.

“The world is transitioning to a green, clean energy future — and it is past time that we ban new offshore drilling and shift our investments to safe, renewable energy sources,” said Huffman. “Californians have experienced first-hand the environmental disasters caused by oil spills, and we are ready to put an end to that risk once and for all by permanently protecting our coasts.”

Huffman and Feinstein are backed by nearly 30 West Coast members of Congress, along with a slew of environmental conservation groups who say the waters support essential ecosystems and coastal economies.

“From soaring cliffs to sunny beaches, the Pacific coast is truly a national treasure. Sadly, this treasure has been threatened far too often, for far too long, with spills and pollution from offshore drilling,” said Kelsey Lamp of Environment America. “We’re glad to see the West Coast Ocean Protection Act reintroduced. We need to make ocean drilling a thing of the past.”

“The world is transitioning to a green, clean energy future — and it is past time that we ban new offshore drilling and shift our investments to safe, renewable energy sources.”

Rep. Jared Huffman

Though no new offshore drilling projects have been permitted in federal waters on the Pacific Coast for almost four decades, Pacific Coast leaders and conservationists called for more protections after the former Trump administration proposed a five-year leasing plan that would allow for new drilling along the entire West Coast. The proposal was shot down by the courts, but it revealed how vulnerable the coast is until a permanent ban is set in place, said proponents of the bill.

Valerie Cleland, senior ocean advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a time where clean energy is deemed the future, “backward-looking” energy sources should no longer be permitted.

“The public has made it clear — communities oppose new offshore drilling and seismic blasting and don’t want to hand over our coastal waters to polluters,” Cleland said. “This bill would make significant strides in protecting the West Coast, coastal communities, and fragile ecosystems.”