The California Coastal Commission, under intense pressure from legislators and environmental activists, pledged Thursday, August 15 at its meeting in Santa Cruz to investigate reports of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for oil in ocean waters in the Santa Barbara Channel.
“Blindsided by revelations of fracking in waters off the coast of California, the state’s Coastal Commission on Thursday vowed an investigation into the controversial practice, including what powers the agency has to regulate it, “ according to Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel reporter.
“We do not yet understand the extent of fracking in federal or state waters, nor fully understand its risks,” said Coastal Commission Deputy Director Allison Dettmer, who will lead the investigation.
“Blindsided” by “relevations” of fracking? How can that be possible when the Coastal Commission, Fish and Game Commission and other state regulators failed to question the leadership role of a big oil lobbyist, nicknamed the “Petro Princess” by anti-fracking activists, in the corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create alleged “marine protected areas?”
State officials and representatives of corporate “environmental” NGOs shamelessly embraced Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), as a “marine guardian.”
Reheis-Boyd, who lobbies relentlessly for increased fracking in California, the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the evisceration of environmental laws, served as the CHAIR of the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California. She also served on the MLPA task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.
She oversaw the creation of questionable “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking and oil drilling, pollution, military testing, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
I’m glad that the Commission is calling for an investigation of offshore fracking now – and I support that investigation.
However, I must ask where were they when grassroots environmentalists, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Tribal members and advocates of transparency in government were calling for an investigation of conflicts of interest, corruption and the violation of state, federal and international laws under the privately-funded MLPA Initiative?
“We take our obligation to protect the marine environment very seriously and we will be looking at this very carefully,” claimed Charles Lester, executive director of the Coastal Commission.
If the Commission wants to really show that they take their obligation “very seriously,” they should include in their fracking investigation a probe of Reheis-Boyd’s role in creating so-called “marine reserves” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution and all other human impacts on our coastal waters than sustainable fishing and gathering.
After that probe is conducted, they should call for a independent and thorough investigation of the conflicts of interest, corruption and violation of laws under the MLPA Initiative.
In 2009, then California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) had planned to conduct a Senate Oversight Hearing about conflicts of interest and “mission creep” in the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative process.
He said that the funding of the MLPA Initiative by a private entity, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, “really has to be looked at,” along with other potential conflicts of interest.
“We have to look at all of the relationships,” said Florez. “Nobody thought the MLPA would become a process where the coast is closed first and the science is done later. Politics, not policy, have led this issue.”
However, Florez’ attempt to investigate the tainted process was apparently squashed by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, according to political insiders.
After the long-needed investigation was squashed, Tribal Leaders, environmentalists and fishermen continued to challenge the role of Reheis-Boyd and other corporate operatives in creating alleged “marine protected areas.”
At the peaceful takeover of an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) meeting by North Coast Tribes and their allies in Fort Bragg on July 21, 2010, Yurok Tribal Elder Susan Burdick pointedly asked Reheis-Boyd and the task force, “What is your real purpose: to start drilling for oil off our coastline? Be honest with us!”
Burdick’s concerns over the push by the oil industry and others to industrialize the California coast were echoed by environmentalists including Judith Vidaver, then Chair of the Ocean Protection Coalition (OPC).
“For over 25 years OPC, with our fisher and seaweed harvester allies, has protected our ocean from threats such as aquaculture projects, nuclear waste dumping, offshore oil development and recently, wave power plants,” Vidaver stated. “We are requesting that final Marine Protected Area (MPA) designations include language prohibiting these industrial-scale commercial activities.”
She also shocked the panel by asking that task force member Catherine Reheis-Boyd voluntarily step down from her position on the BRTF.
“Oil and water do not mix—as we are being reminded daily by the disaster spewing in the Gulf,” she stated. “Mrs. Reheis-Boyd’s position as President of the Western States Petroleum Association and her lobbying efforts to expand offshore oil drilling off the coast of California are a patent conflict of interest for which she should recuse herself from the BRTF proceedings which are ostensibly meant to protect the marine ecosystem.”
Unfortunately, the calls of Tribal members, grassroots environmentalists and fishermen to include strong protections from oil drilling, fracking, pollution and ocean industrialization in “marine protected areas” and their repeated challenges of the role of a big oil industry lobbyist in the process went unheeded.
Now the Coastal Commission and other state officials express “surprise” after they read an Associated Press report documenting that at least 12 fracking operations have been conducted in the Santa Barbara Channel in recent years.
At the same time, Governor Jerry Brown, a strong supporter of the oil industry, is fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The tunnels will be used to export massive quantities of water to corporate agribusiness interests and oil companies seeking to expand fracking operations in Kern County and coastal areas. The construction of the tunnels will hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species.
Reheis-Boyd apparently used her role as a state marine “protection” official to increase her network of influence in California politics to the point where the Western States Petroleum Association has become the most powerful corporate lobby in California. The association now has enormous influence over both state and federal regulators – and MLPA Initiative advocates helped facilitate her rise to power.
Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent more than $16 million lobbying in Sacramento since 2009.
When the oil industry wields this much power – and an oil industry lobbyist oversaw the process that was supposed to “protect” the ocean – it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that California’s ocean waters are now being “fracked.” Both the state and federal regulators have completely failed in their duty to protect our ocean, bays, rivers and Delta.
For more information about the MLPA Initiative, go here.
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