The place many consider the birthplace of the modern U.S. environmental movement, California’s Santa Barbara County, is considering changing its decades-long opposition to renewed offshore drilling along its stretch of Pacific coast, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The five-member county Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider writing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to ask for a change of state policy against drilling.

Meanwhile, the City of Santa Barbara, the generally wealthy seaside enclave and tourist destination where a disastrous oil spill occurred in 1969 that spawned California’s strong aversion to offshore drilling, is considering action going in the other direction, but its next two previously scheduled city council meetings (Tuesday and Sept. 2) have been canceled.

Santa Barbara’s city council currently is considering a move to make its local government carbon-neutral by 2020, but in the county, which includes some large agricultural and oil/gas industry interests, recent opinion polls have indicated that a majority of the county residents may now favor offshore drilling.

Historically, there have been organized pro-drilling (Bring Oil Back) and anti-drilling (Get Oil Out) citizen groups. The drilling supporters include a lot of people labeling themselves environmentalists who take the stance that the many natural seeps of oil into nearby ocean waters could be reduced through new drilling with the industry’s improved technology and safety record. They hope this argument will soften hard-core opponents.

County support currently hinges on the swing vote one of the five elected supervisors, Brooks Firestone, who previously opposed offshore drilling. A former state legislator who is not running for reelection on the county board this fall gives proponents a 3-2 edge in any votes taken this year, but his likely successor is opposed to a drilling resumption, so early next year the county elected officials could once again reverse themselves.

Schwarzenegger has not indicated how he is leaning right now, but for the past two years, he and the other two West Coast governors for Oregon and Washington states have jointly agreed to oppose any offshore drilling resumption (see Daily GPI, Oct. 3, 2006).

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