Lawmakers rip offshore drilling

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers from Oregon, Washington and California want a permanent ban on new offshore drilling in federal waters off their coastlines in the wake of last month’s massive environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Six Democratic senators representing the West Coast submitted legislation Thursday to restore a moratorium on new federal leases for offshore oil exploration or drilling that had been in effect from 1981 to 2008. A similar resolution was introduced in the House last week.

“We are absolutely united on the principle that no offshore drilling should occur off our shores,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol.

Although President Barack Obama has blocked any new drilling along the West Coast until at least 2017, the lawmakers say legislation is needed to ensure that no subsequent administration reneges on that promise.

“The risk of a spill is too great,” said California Sen. Barbara Boxer.

As chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Boxer said she has heard from oil executives who concede that they cannot guarantee against another oil rig disaster like the one that has devastated the Gulf.

“From the testimony we heard, we feel it could happen again,” Boxer said.

Merkley said the legislation is needed to strengthen protections sought by Oregon policymakers. The state’s legislature recently passed a bill to prevent offshore drilling, but it extends only 3 miles from shore, in state-controlled waters. The federal government controls the waters from there out 200 miles.

Merkley noted that drilling farther out wouldn’t spare Oregon should a spill occur because prevailing currents and weather would drive the oil slick into the shoreline.