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Reactions Mixed as Compromise on Drilling Collapses

September 12, 1985|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

A decision by Secretary of the Interior Donald P. Hodel to scrap a compromise that would have allowed oil and gas drilling off the Palos Verdes Peninsula was greeted with cautious optimism Wednesday by Peninsula residents and politicians.

But reaction from some officials representing communities on Santa Monica Bay which would have been spared from drilling under the plan was both bitter and resentful.

"It stinks," said Redondo Beach City Councilman Archie Snow, who together with Hermosa Beach Councilman Gary Brutsch formed a group that pushed for approval of the compromise. "It shows you can't trust the guy. When you make an agreement you expect him to respect it."

A spokesman for Rep. Mel Levine (D-Los Angeles), who was a member of the California delegation that negotiated the compromise in July, said Levine is considering co-sponsoring legislation that would enact the plan without Hodel's backing.

No Renegotiation

"The congressmen don't see any reason to renegotiate something new," said Polly Kreisman, Levine's press secretary. "How do they know that he isn't going to change his mind again?"

Hodel announced on Tuesday that he no longer supports the plan, which would have allowed drilling on 150 nine-square-mile tracts of ocean floor off the California coastline, including 5 1/2 tracts off the Peninsula. The agreement left 6,310 other tracts, including Santa Monica Bay, under a drilling moratorium until the year 2000.

The plan has been vehemently opposed by oil industry representatives, who argue that too few tracts are included in the compromise and that most of the eligible tracts are not energy-rich anyway. On a 10-point scale that judges the likelihood of tracts to produce oil and gas, the tracts off the Peninsula, for example, are rated at 1 and 2. A 10 is the highest rating.

In rejecting the compromise, Hodel said that he favors a plan that would tap more of the state's energy resources. He said that he is drafting a new list of proposed tracts that would be opened to drilling, but he offered no specific alternative to the abandoned compromise.

Critical of Compromise

The compromise has been criticized by Peninsula residents who fear that drilling would create air and water pollution and could endanger environmentally sensitive marine life as well as whale migrations. Numerous residents and local politicians from throughout the South Bay attended public hearings late last month held by Hodel in Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles.

But while Peninsula residents are pleased that tracts off the Peninsula may be spared with the collapse of the compromise, they fear that the tracts may be included in new agreements.

"We are crossing our fingers and just hoping for the best," said Stella LaRose, a Rancho Palos Verdes resident who helped mobilize local opposition to the compromise last month. "I am hoping that they are not talking about our tracts in any other discussions."

Palos Verdes Estates Mayor James H. Kinney said Wednesday that Hodel's decision to abandon the plan was "a step in the right direction." He said that city officials are reluctant to embrace the action unconditionally, however, because it is unclear what will happen next.

Disappointed Mayor

Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor John C. McTaggart, who testified at the Long Beach hearing against including the Palos Verdes tracts in the compromise, said he was disappointed that the compromise has been scrapped. He said the city did not intend to "blow holes" in the agreement.

"We were just asking them to take a closer look at the tracts off our coast," McTaggart said. "I don't think the oil companies should have the opportunity to drill anywhere they want to."

McTaggart praised Hodel, however, for having an open mind about objections to the agreement and for considering local testimony before reaching a decision.

"I really trust Hodel," he said. "I think he is genuinely interested in getting the best deal for the country."

'Fatally Flawed'

Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), who represents the Peninsula, said he was pleased with Hodel's decision because the compromise was "fatally flawed." Lungren, a strong supporter of offshore oil leasing, has opposed the compromise because it would not open enough offshore tracts to drilling. He also has criticized lawmakers for including the Peninsula tracts while sparing areas with more oil deposits.

"I hope this won't be the end of negotiations, but the beginning of negotiations on a wider scale," said Lungren, who complained in July that he was excluded from talks about the compromise.

Hodel, meanwhile, is preparing a tentative list of 150 proposed tracts for leasing that contains 14 of the sites included in the original compromise. He is expected to make the list public as early as next week.

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