Californians love the Pacific for its natural beauty and wildlife, and the tourism and recreation it attracts serves as the anchor industry for many of our coastal communities. But this core part of California’s identity is under immediate threat from the Trump administration’s offshore drilling executive order, the so-called “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”
This order threatens the four National Marine Sanctuaries that stretch along much of California’s coastline — the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Cordell Bank and the Greater Farallones. It includes possible revocation of their protected status that would open them up to oil drilling and development.
We must not hand over our most precious natural resources to those who would pillage and destroy them for private gain. On top of the California coast’s cultural significance and striking beauty, it also helps float the state’s economic wellbeing. California’s ocean economy is valued at $45 billion and employs more than a half million people, who earn a combined $20 billion annually.
The order calls for a review process to determine what oil, gas, methane hydrate and seabed hard mineral resources might be exploited within any sanctuary expansion areas — referring to them as “lost opportunity costs.” But any honest economic review of our National Marine Sanctuaries would calculate the cost in dollars of destroying the sanctuaries by taking into account what would be a devastating loss of tourism, recreation and fishing industry revenue for our state.
Since President Richard Nixon created the national marine sanctuary program in 1972, no president has ever reduced or eliminated any of these critical areas. In fact, national marine sanctuaries have a long and notable history of bipartisan support. When the federal government wanted to open up California’s coast to more offshore oil drilling in the 1980s, congressional leaders from both parties came together to push back. The result was a moratorium banning the Department of the Interior from spending any money to pursue offshore lease sales.
Regardless of political ideology, any American can marvel at our cliffs, bluffs and beaches. All four of California’s national marine sanctuaries boast an incredible diversity of life and habitat. Together, they provide shelter to endangered whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, fish, seabirds, coral reefs, kelp forests and sharks. And as the impacts of rising sea temperatures begin to be felt, from ocean acidification to overfishing and increased industrial use, National Marine Sanctuaries will play an essential role in preserving overall ocean health.
As Californians, we must maintain our economy, heritage and longstanding leadership by protecting our ocean. Although the administration is trying to sneak it through, the order is now open for comment. We must step up and respond to the federal government’s 30-day public comment period on whether our national marine sanctuaries deserve to remain protected, and we must call upon our legislators to defend the sanctuaries. The Trump administration is trying to rush this decision through and hoping Californians won’t notice. We can’t afford to ignore it — our ocean resources and our way of life are at risk.
Jennifer Savage is the California Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation.