Politics & Government

California's top leaders line up to oppose offshore drilling plan

WASHINGTON — If President Bush and Republican Sen. John McCain are expecting any support from California's top leaders for their plan to lift a ban on offshore drilling, it could be a long wait.

"California's coastline is an international treasure," Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday. "I do not support lifting this moratorium on new oil drilling off our coast."

Ditto from the state's two Democratic senators, who are out to thwart the proposal. Sen. Barbara Boxer says all President Bush wants to do is "drill, drill, drill." And Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the president has returned to "the mantra of drilling."

"Californians are all too familiar with the consequences of offshore drilling," Feinstein said. "An oil spill in 1969 off the coast of Santa Barbara killed thousands of birds, as well as dolphins, seals, and other marine animals. And we know this could happen again."

McCain may not officially be giving up any chance of winning California's 55 electoral votes, but that may be the practical effect of his push to lift the ban, first imposed by Congress in 1981 and long considered the defining environmental issue in California.

So says Dan Schnur, a Republican political analyst in California who served as communications director of McCain's presidential campaign in 2000. He said the McCain campaign appears to have made a strategic decision to abandon California in hopes of bolstering its support in key swing states, where offshore drilling may be more popular.

"John McCain may have had a chance in California, but it was always going to be an uphill fight for him," Schnur said. "Giving up on that chance in exchange for a better opportunity in Michigan and Ohio is probably a good trade."

Bush's plan, announced Wednesday, is an attempt to boost oil supplies, but it appears to have little chance of succeeding in a Democratic-led Congress.

"Our nation must produce more oil, and we must start now," Bush said.

Last year Boxer, Feinstein and Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara reintroduced a bill that would provide permanent protection for California's coast from any future drilling.

Boxer, who heads the Senate's environment committee, said McCain had "joined the president's bandwagon." And she called the president's plan "the height of hypocrisy."

"Two years ago, he said America is addicted to oil, and today he wants to feed that addiction," Boxer said.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said the plan represents another example of the president cozying up to oil interests.

"The president's proposal sounds like another page from the administration's energy policy that was literally written by the oil industry: Give away more public resources to the very same oil companies that are sitting on 68 million acres of federal lands they've already leased," Pelosi said.

While Schnur said the plan is a losing issue for McCain in California, Republican Rep. Dan Lungren of Gold River said attitudes might be changing. Lungren, who backs the plan, said that $4-a-gallon gasoline prices are now the top issue in his district and that state residents might be ready to back such a proposal.

"People want something done," he said.