By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday hailed a Senate committee’s approval of their bill to expand two North Coast marine sanctuaries that would permanently prohibit offshore oil drilling.
Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran anti-drilling lobbyist with Defenders of Wildlife, said the Senate Commerce Committee vote was “a critical first step” toward protecting more of the coast. “We won,” he said.
Wednesday was World Oceans Day, and environmentalists were buzzing over a Wall Street Journal column Monday by former first lady Laura Bush advocating the preservation of “our wild ocean frontiers.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, applauded the Senate action, saying she hoped it would “provide the momentum for progress” on her companion bill in the House.
Woolsey’s bill to more than double the size of two sanctuaries, extending their northern limit from Bodega Head to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County, originated in 2004.
Woolsey and the two senators reintroduced their bills in January.
Boxer and Feinstein “will keep pushing” to get their measure through the Democrat-controlled Senate, a Boxer aide said, but gave no timetable for future action.
Woolsey’s bill faces a bleaker prospect in the Republican-controlled House, which last month approved a three-bill package intended to boost offshore oil production, including a “drill smart” plan that would require renewed oil development in Southern California.
The bills sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., House Natural Resources Committee chairman, were given little chance of success in the Senate.
The sanctuary expansion bill’s “most likely path forward” would be as part of an omnibus public lands bill containing many land and natural resource measures, a Boxer aide said.
It was included in such a measure last year that was derailed in December by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain over issues unrelated to offshore oil.
If a Senate omnibus measure came to the House this year with the sanctuaries provision, Charter said, it could win approval.
“Strange things happen with (political) tradeoffs,” he said.
Oil drilling is prohibited in marine sanctuaries, but commercial fishing is allowed.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.