Treehuggers International

California State Parks Held Hostage By Big Oil

January 28th, 2010

Will San Simeon State Park's future be tied to offshore oil drilling?

California Gov. Schwarzenegger tends to vascillate between being a constructive friend of the environment to annoying we conservationists and outdoors fans down to the soles of our hiking boots.  For all the good environmental sense Schwarzenegger has demonstrated leadership on, from demanding greater fuel efficiency to actively working to combat climate change to embracing solar and alternative energy solutions, he’s also racked up a bizarre track record of being on the wrong side of local conservation issues, from calling the proposed toll road through Trestles and San Onofre State Beach “essential,” to backing the Sunrise Powerlink’s route through Anza-Borrego wilderness areas, to his pathological habit of playing brinksmanship-style politics with California State Parks.

Last spring, Schwarzenegger took the state’s breath away by seriously proposing to close and mothball 220 of the state’s 279 state parks.  A revised budget approved by the Governor during the summer forced the early closure and haphazard staffing of state parks which continues today, and it’s not as it California State Parks is one of the budget-breakers of the state’s general fund.  The state park system which is justifiably the envy of the nation has been making due with little-to-less for much of the past 30 years. Today, it has been cut to the literal bone.

The latest madness involving California State Parks can be found in Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which includes a scheme to fund all 279 state parks from oil revenues (!) collected from a long-delayed, highly-controversial offshore drilling plan along the Tranquillon Ridge in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Never mind the plan has been shot down by the California Coastal Commission, twice, and never mind it was a catastrophic oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast in 1969 which gave rise to the current environmental movement and moratorium on offshore drilling in the Golden State, this is how Schwarzenegger proposes to fund the state park system, which not only operates 279 state parks, but also an effective law enforcement apparatus with less than one-tenth of one percent of the entire annual general fund.  A bargain.

To top it off, the Governor’s proposal was announced the same day supporters of a ballot initiative designed to secure regular, permanent funding for state parks via an annual $18 fee on license tab renewals (the average day-use fee at California State Parks is around $10) announced the launch of a signature-gathering campaign to qualify the initiative. Currently, about 700,000 signatures are needed to get the measure on the November ballot. Should it pass, all state residents will be able to use California State Parks for free, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

So why would Gov. Schwarzenegger tie the survival of the nation’s best state park system to fossil fuels and an offshore drilling plan which has already been denied permits twice, especially when such a constructive alternative is already in the signature-gathering stage? We at Treehuggers International were wondering if we’d missed something, and to better explain, Jerry Roberts with the Santa Barbara Independent wrote an outstanding op/ed dissection of the story in the paper’s January 14th edition:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week released his latest budget plan, which posed a no-win dilemma for many environmentalists. Grabbing $140 million from the California State Parks system – about one-third of its $431 million budget – Schwarzenegger said he’s counting on approval of Santa Barbara’s controversial Tranquillon Ridge drilling project for the money to backfill the cut. In other words, if he doesn’t get his way on offshore oil, state parks will take the hit.

Roberts goes on to say:

As a political matter, the governor’s third attempt to push through a new state lease, on behalf of the Houston-based PXP oil company, considerably raises the stakes on the issue. The oil versus parks formulation is one of several key changes Schwarzenegger made in earlier versions of the twice-defeated project; the move is aimed in part at undercutting an ad hoc coalition of more than 100 environmental group that oppose his oil plan.

The project has caused a bitter family feud between the coalition and Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center. The EDC last year reached a confidential agreement with PXP, which the group claims includes conditions that will lead, within 15 years, to the end of much of the drilling off the county coast. Foes say, however, the project sets a dangerous precedent for breaching the California Sanctuary Act, and sends a political message that drill-baby-drill advocates will use to support their pro-oil position.

Last week, hours after Schwarzenegger released his proposal, EDC “expressed its appreciation” to him for his new push for the T-Ridge proposal: “We look forward to the opportunity to have this project reconsidered by the State Lands Commission,” said Linda Krop, EDC’s chief counsel.

You can read the rest of the Santa Barbara Independent story HERE, and to send a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger with the help of the California State Parks Foundation, click HERE.

Mitchell Caverns State Park: should expanded offshore oil drilling fund these caves?

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1 Comment so far

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  1. A Real Chance : 3/1/2010

    Anyone who still believes the PXP/GOO/CPA/EDC deal is unenforceable and somehow helps oil companies has their head in the sand. Let’s hope Nava and Jordan open their eyes and help end offshore oil drilling.

    Under current law, oil companies have the right to drill without any end dates.

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