An archaic loophole in California state law is still giving oil companies a shortcut to develop dangerous new fossil fuel infrastructure along our coast. With SB 704 sitting on his desk, Governor Newsom has an opportunity to end that special privilege and strengthen protection against oil spills while accelerating California’s international climate leadership.
Surfrider is strongly supporting SB 704 – a bill authored by Orange County Senator Dave Min because it would end an obsolete, 1970s-era special deal enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry that allows the permitting of new and expanded oil and gas infrastructure in California’s coastal zone with significantly less oversight and environmental safeguards than is required for most other kinds of coastal development.
The bill has so far sailed through the Legislature and with the Governor's signature; new drill rigs, pipelines and oil refineries along the coast will finally be subject to the same level of scrutiny by the Coastal Commission as other coastal development, including consideration of their climate impacts.
Having SB 704 in place will strengthen legal protections against the kinds of fossil fuel development that cause oil spills – facilities such as pipelines, production platforms, and storage tanks that are known to pollute our lands, waters, and communities.
In other words, the bill will help prevent new oil spills and toxic contamination from onshore development by curtailing new pipeline and production platform construction along our coast, where we know developers would be much less likely to get permits for their dangerous facilities if they don't get to take short cuts through fair public process.
Let's not miss a chance to protect against major offshore oil spills like the Plains All American’s pipeline rupture in 2015, which dumped more than 142,000 gallons of crude oil on Refugio State Beach; or Amplify Energy’s 2021 Huntington Beach oil spill, which spread 25,000 gallons of crude oil and tarballs throughout fisheries, beaches and 127 acres of coastal wetlands. We can also safeguard against persistent pollution associated with refineries like Chevron’s El Segundo refinery, ranked in early 2023 as the nation’s worst for nitrogen and selenium pollution of coastal waters.
SB 704 will also reduce the likelihood of new offshore drilling in federal waters. By modernizing state law to require that oil producers comply with California’s full range of coastal development safeguards, SB 704 will serve as advance defense should a new, pro-fossil fuel administration assume the presidency. As recently as 2018, the Trump administration proposed new oil and gas lease sales to expand drilling in the federal waters off California’s coast.
The bill also helps ensure that our state coastal policies are supporting California’s climate goals and reinforcing global climate leadership, instead of giving the oil industry unfair privileges to build new infrastructure that will prolong our oil addiction.
In the past five years, Governor Newsom and the Legislature have helped California make big strides toward our climate goals by reducing our addiction to oil. We’ve made a $15 billion climate investment to cut more than 90% of fossil fuel emissions associated with transportation, passed a new law that protects communities by expanding the minimum buffer zones required around onshore oil drilling, and started a phase out of gasoline powered cars. The Newsom administration also brought about the decommissioning of the last remaining piers in Santa Barbara’s Ellwood Oil Field.
Passage of SB 704 continues this legacy and will strengthen California’s message that fossil fuels’ days of a freeride at the public’s expense are behind us. It’s time to make clear that we’ll no longer sacrifice the coast, the climate or the health of California communities for oil, and the state is moving on to a clean energy future. Tell Governor Newsom to sign SB 704!