A group of U.S. House representatives and senators from the U.S. state of California on Monday called for the end to offshore drilling, two days after a major oil spill incident near Orange County left fish dead, birds mired in petroleum and wetlands contaminated.
Nanette D. Barragan, U.S. Congresswoman from California's 44th Congressional District, and Mike Levin, U.S. Congressman from the state's 49th Congressional District, made remarks after inspecting the pollution incident.
"The devastation of the oil spill continues to spread off the coast of Orange County. @RepMikeLevin and I are joining the @USCG on an overflight to view the impacts of the damage," Barragan tweeted Monday noon, noting that "We must end offshore oil drilling."
"This disaster is exactly why I'm leading the bill in Congress that would end all new offshore drilling along our Southern California coast. We need to get this done," Levin tweeted earlier. "If you agree it's time to pass my American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act."
The spill, first reported Saturday morning, originated from a pipeline running from the Port of Long Beach to an offshore oil platform known as Elly. The failure till Monday caused roughly 126,000 gallons of oil to gush into the ocean, creating a slick spanning about 8,320 acres.
The spill has left oil along long stretches of sand in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach, killing fish and birds and threatening wetlands where many birds live.
Oil from the spill, called by local officials as an environmental catastrophe, was moving south toward the sensitive coves around Laguna Beach on Monday.
Long Beach is located in the 44th Congressional District, and the severely impacted areas in the incident, including Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach belong to the 48th Congressional District. The state's 49 Congressional District sits in the south.
The two Congress members who called on an end to offshore drilling are Democrats, while Michelle Steel, the representative from the 48th Congressional District, is a Republican. She sent a letter to Democratic President Joe Biden requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, which would free up federal funds to help with the clean-up efforts.
Even though she called the incident "a really serious disaster," Steel did not mention ending offshore drilling, which is a controversial topic in the country's polarized political system.
Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Democratic state assembly member representing the 74th Assembly District, which encompasses the coastal Orange County communities of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, said she had "huge concerns" about the extent of the damage to the environment, communities and local economy.
She told CNN the spill was a "call to action that we need to stop drilling off our precious California coast."
In Washington D.C., many California Democrats called for limiting or halting offshore drilling in the wake of the incident, as the overall impact is hard to assess at this point.
"The oil spill off the coast of Orange County reiterates the perils of offshore drilling," Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. "This spill highlights why we must also take action to prevent future spills, including passing the West Coast Ocean Protection Act."
"Our bill would permanently ban oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington," she added.
"We've seen time and time again how damaging offshore oil spills are to our coastal ecosystems as well as to our economy. We have the power to prevent future spills - that's why I'm committed to ending offshore oil drilling," Alex Padilla, another senator from the Golden State, wrote.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on Monday released a statement criticizing Steel had special relationship with "Big Oil."
"While Michelle Steel aids and promotes Big Oil, Orange County beaches are devastated by one of the biggest oil spills in California history," a press release from the DCCC said.
"Michelle Steel is no stranger to aiding and promoting Big Oil. Her campaign coffers are flowing with cash from Big Oil and fossil fuel donors. Her legislative record is littered with attempts to block clean water and air protections. It's no wonder why Big Oil and Michelle Steel have each other's backs."
In response to the criticism, Steel's spokesperson Danielle Stewart was quoted by The Hill as saying that when Steel worked to help local communities affected by the incident, "DCCC staffers inside the Beltway are doing what they do best - sending political emails just to score points off a tragedy in Orange County - pathetic."
Offshore drilling was restricted in California after a devastating 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, 150 kilometers north of the Los Angeles downtown, that spewed an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, creating a slick 35 miles long along California's coast and killing thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals.
The Santa Barbara spill was the worst in the nation's history - until 20 years later, when the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude off the coast of Alaska on March 24, 1989.
In Orange County, the latest mass oil spill incidents occurred on Feb. 7, 1990, when the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchor in shallow water just about 2,200 meters off Huntington Beach. It spilled nearly 417,000 gallons of crude, killing many fish and about 3,400 birds.
Oil production off California's coast declined sharply since its peak in the 1990s, after the state passed some strict environmental rules, such as the the California Coastal Sanctuary Act passed by the state legislature in 1994, which prohibited the state from entering into any new leases within state tidelands.
In 2017, the California Senate passed a resolution opposing new oil or gas drilling in federal waters located offshore California.
In 2019, when the Donald Trump administration planned to lease sales along the country's coast and vastly expand offshore oil drilling from coast to coast, California passed a law prohibiting new leases for new construction of oil and gas-related infrastructure, such as pipelines, within state waters if the federal government authorizes any new offshore oil leases.
The state's current Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said he would like to end oil drilling in the state by 2045.