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California Governor Takes Heat for Offshore Drilling Proposal

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to beat back criticism early in June surrounding his proposal in last month's fiscal revisions aimed at reversing the state's worsening budget crisis by securing an additional $100 million of annual revenues for the state from the limited opening of drilling offshore Santa Barbara. Schwarzenegger's proposal was tied to the dismantling of four existing offshore platforms in the area.

Last Thursday, Schwarzenegger's office indicated he will try to get state legislation to open up this drilling and overturn an earlier ruling by the California State Lands Commission rejecting the idea. A local newspaper along the state's central coast, the Santa Maria Times, editorialized last Thursday in favor of the governor's proposal, saying "we understand both viewpoints, but believe [Schwarzenegger] is correct on this one."

The Tranquillon Ridge lease approval by the governor and legislature would open state-owned tidelands and submerged lands in the coastal area off Santa Barbara in a move that is estimated to be worth $1.8 billion in extra revenues to the state during the next 14 years, or about $100 million for this fiscal year.

"To set the record straight," Schwarzenegger's office issued a "myth-vs.-fact" statement on the offshore drilling line item that he said is a "vehicle to bring new revenues into the state and end oil drilling off Santa Barbara's coast." The proposal is "strongly supported" by environmental groups, according to Schwarzengger's spokesperson, and will benefit the state now and speed the permanent removal of drilling platforms from the Santa Barbara coastline.

Schwarzenegger argued that contrary to what his critics say, this would not be the first oil lease in California coastal waters in 40 years, it has not "bypassed" the normal environmental reviews, and it is not a reversal of what the governor promised when he was first elected.

"The Tranquillon Ridge project would be carried out from an existing platform already drilling in federal waters adjacent to state waters," Schwarzenegger said. "Drilling has been going on for decades off the coast and will continue to for decades more under existing leases. [My proposal] would actually curtail drilling by permanently pulling out four oil platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara."

In response to criticism about the process, Schwarzenegger said there have been five years of "rigorous state and local government public environmental review by the State Lands Commission and Santa Barbara County" on the issue of drilling; furthermore, 25 environmental groups, including the ones most active in Santa Barbara, supported the proposal when it was first aired last Jan. 29.

"The revenues from the [drilling] project are but a small piece of the overall budget puzzle -- $1.8 billion during 14 years -- but the overall benefits for California from this project are substantial," said Schwarzenegger, noting the removal of the four platforms, two onshore processing plants and a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions over more than 4,000 acres of important lands in Santa Barbara County.

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