Attorney General Becerra to Trump Administration: State Oversight of Offshore Drilling Projects Must Not Be Weakened

Friday, April 26, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO - California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has joined a multistate coalition in filing a comment letter in response to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) invitation for feedback on potential reductions of state authority and oversight of offshore gas, oil, and energy projects. Under the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), states have the authority to review federal projects for consistency with state law. NOAA has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking feedback on potential rollbacks to the state oversight and objections process to accelerate oil and gas projects, including offshore drilling. Attorney General Becerra objects to any attempt to diminish the process, asserting that weakening state authority for the benefit of the oil and gas industry would endanger California and other coastal states’ environment and public health.

“California has a right to ensure that offshore drilling projects on our coastline comply with the law,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Trump Administration can try and disguise this as an invitation for feedback, but it is painfully evident that this is really a hostile attempt to force offshore drilling down our throats. We’ve seen this movie before and we stand ready to defend California’s coastal resources and our public health.”

The CZMA was enacted by Congress in 1978 to encourage states to exercise authority in managing important coastal resources and habitat. As part of the CZMA, states with federally approved coastal zone management programs have the authority to review federal and federally-licensed projects for consistency with state law. Under the law, federal projects that a state finds unlawful may continue if approved by a federal agency. Nonfederal projects may not proceed over a state objection, but the proponents can appeal the determination. With its invitation for feedback, NOAA begins the first step of a rulemaking that could diminish state oversight and relax the approval process for the oil and gas industry in all stages of these projects, from leasing to development. NOAA’s invitation also begins a process that could result in the weakening of the state’s ability to appeal coastal projects that raise environmental or health concerns.

In the letter, the states assert that the NOAA’s invitation for feedback is a veiled attempt to promote President Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda by encouraging more offshore energy exploration and production. The coalition opposes any changes to the current process, which has worked well since 1978 and was already streamlined to respond to industry concerns under the Bush Administration in 2006. In addition, the states outline in the letter that since 1978, out of more than 16,000 plans and projects, there have been a total of only 14 appeals requiring federal government intervention.

California’s oversight of coastal projects and development occurs through the California Coastal Management Program. The program protects California’s coastal zone and is administered by three state agencies: The California Coastal Commission, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the California Coastal Conservancy. These agencies oversee project compliance with state laws including the California Coastal Act, McAteer-Petris Act, and Suisan Marsh Preservation Act.

In filing the letter, Attorney General Becerra joins the Attorneys General of New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

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