By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, renewed her push on Wednesday to expand two marine sanctuaries and permanently ban offshore oil drilling along the North Coast.
Woolsey submitted her bill, which was thwarted late last year, on the first day of the 112th Congress with Republicans firmly in control of the House and determined to blunt Democratic initiatives.
Woolsey, who began her 10th term on Wednesday, called for bipartisan support of the sanctuary measure, saying it would “help the economy by preserving jobs in the fishing industry and creating new ones in the tourist industry.”
“If Republicans are serious about job creation, they should support this,” she said in a written statement.
But the head of the oil industry’s most powerful trade group sounded a different note on Tuesday, faulting the Obama administration’s decisions last year to preclude oil and gas leases off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Banning energy exploration in those regions “sends job creation elsewhere … and it closes the door on economic growth,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.
His group released a 29-page report, titled “The State of American Energy,” reiterating the estimate that there are 10.5 billion barrels of untapped oil reserves on the Pacific coast and calling on Congress and the White House to “re-examine and reconsider limits” on drilling.
“They put us in the crosshairs,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran of the 30-year battle over North Coast oil drilling. “They see a changing of the guard in the House that might open the door for them.”
But Charter, a lobbyist for the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, also said Woolsey’s bill has a chance through a companion measure in the Senate, which is still under Democratic control.
“You don’t need to have a friendly House to do this,” Charter said.
With two powerful powerful backers in California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, the sanctuary expansion could win Senate approval and be sent to the House late this year as part of an omnibus bill that many members would support, Charter said.
Oil drilling is expressly prohibited in marine sanctuaries, but commercial fishing is allowed.
The sanctuary measure was lumped into a public lands omnibus bill that was derailed last month by Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl. “You have to keep trying because that’s how these things get done,” Charter said.
The 6,100-square mile Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which touches the southern tip of Marin County, was established by former California Democratic Rep. Leon Panetta in 1992 after a 14-year effort, Charter said.
Woolsey’s bill, which originated in 2004, would more than double the size of two existing sanctuaries, which cover about 1,800 square miles of ocean from just north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Bodega Head. The proposed expansion would extend the sanctuaries’ northern limit to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.
David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist, said that Charter’s scenario for the sanctuary expansion is viable.
Woolsey’s bill may not “see the light of day” in the House, McCuan said, but Boxer and Feinstein could get it through the Senate and into an omnibus bill that might surface this year or in 2012.
“It has value as an election year issue,” he said.
For Woolsey, who said last month she might retire in 2012 after completing 20 years in Congress, the bill is “good politics on her part,” McCuan said.
Should the sanctuaries be expanded, the law “would be an important part of her legacy,” he said.
Woolsey, a former Petaluma city councilwoman, is best known for her principled stand against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has handily defeated all challengers for her seat in the 6th Congressional District, which covers all of Marin and most of Sonoma County.