During a daylong visit to Orange County, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) on Thursday defended a compromise proposal to allow offshore oil exploration near Newport Beach as the only alternative to opening up the entire California coast to drilling.
Wilson told a news conference at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa that he knew residents of Newport Beach would be unhappy about the compromise before he agreed to support it last month. He indicated there is only a slim chance that the six oil lease tracts proposed for exploration off Newport Beach could be changed before a final plan is adopted in September.
Following a speech before about 600 persons attending a luncheon of the Industrial League and Executive Committee of Orange County, Wilson said he and other coastal protection advocates had been able to "buy time" for the existing moratorium on offshore development in previous congressional sessions, but that this year, "We have run out of the ability . . . to buy that time.
'Don't Give a Damn'
"The fellows from Louisiana and Wyoming really don't give a damn about your coastline," Wilson said several House and Senate members had told him.
Later, Wilson told reporters that Secretary of Interior Donald P. Hodel is under great pressure from the oil industry to open up more offshore tracts because they believe Hodel "gave away the store" in the proposed agreement announced last month.
The compromise, worked out by Hodel, Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey), Rep. William Lowery (R-San Diego), Rep. Mel Levine (D-Los Angeles), U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Wilson, would allow new exploratory wells in 150 tracts previously protected from oil development under a 3-year-old moratorium.
Most of the new tracts are near Eureka in Northern California waters. However, several are located outside Santa Monica Bay and along the Orange County and northern San Diego County coastlines, prompting strong protests from residents and officials in coastal communities.
Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) and other members of the California congressional delegation have said the controversial compromise was a political deal that sacrificed Badham's district in part to protect the coastal districts of mostly Northern California Democrats.
Asked during Thursday's news conference why none of the proposed tracts are near San Diego, Wilson's hometown, the senator replied:
"It's my understanding that the Navy wouldn't stand for it."
San Diego, where Wilson served as mayor until 1983, is a major home port for U.S. naval vessels.
In other remarks Thursday, Wilson predicted that Congress and the White House will eventually agree to finance the entire $1.3-billion Santa Ana River Flood Control Project because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ranked the river as the worst flood threat west of the Mississippi River.
The project has been included in omnibus water legislation, but actual spending authorization for work other than engineering studies has been delayed for several years.