The Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors went and did it. They voted 3-2 last night to ask the Governor to open up the Santa Barbara County coast to expanded oil drilling despite the opposition of stalwart environmental leaders like Pedro Nava, Susan Jordan, and Linda Krop and the Environmental Defense Center. In the early 1900s, philosopher George Santayana warned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Evidently the S.B. supervisors have the attention span of a Nickelodeon obsessed tweener or they are in the pockets of Big Oil.
The spin around the story is that the vote was largely symbolic. After all, Gov. Schwarzenegger, Sens. Feinstein and Boxer are all staunch opponents of offshore oil drilling. But I think the spin underplays the symbolism of the county’s move.
The momentum on offshore oil drilling is the strongest it has been in over 20 years. John McCain is pushing for offshore oil drilling while Barack Obama says he is open to expanded drilling as part of a comprehensive energy policy with greater focus on renewables and conservation. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has now said she’s open to offshore oil drilling under conditions similar to those posed by Obama. The petroleum industry and the Bush Administration have somehow been successful in getting the majority of registered voters to believe that America can somehow drill their way to energy independence despite the overwhelming facts refuting the myth.
Santa Barbara County’s decision is like the Sierra Club supporting logging of giant sequoias in Yosemite or the Surfrider Foundation supporting a massive development at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach. The action is so unexpected that everyone pays attention. A bold action by the region devastated by the 1969 Unocal oil spill will be used as the poster child to demonstrate that offshore oil drilling is OK. The average person doesn’t differentiate between the city of Santa Barbara, which remains staunchly opposed to drilling, and Santa Barbara County. So you can bet that Big Oil and the Bush administration will seize on last night’s vote and use it in Congress in their efforts to open up our precious coastal waters to more oil drilling.