Secretary of Interior Donald P. Hodel is guardedly optimistic about prospects for drafting an oil leasing program acceptable to oil companies and California coastal interests. If that is to happen, however, the secretary will have to make a special effort to convince a panel of 18 U.S. House and Senate members that he is sincere about wanting to protect the California coastal environment as well as pumping oil.
Hodel did not help his case when he moved ahead with plans to lease a vast region off the California coast for oil exploration beginning as early as 1988. Even Gov. George Deukmejian, a strong supporter of the Administration on this issue, took offense and accused Hodel of breaking faith. Some Californians on the House-Senate negotiating team thought Hodel was trying to undercut their bargaining position. Hodel did exempt 11 areas on environmental grounds. That sounded good, but six of them already are protected by law. There can be reason for encouragement, however, if the rhetoric is kept to reasonable levels by all sides and if negotiators search for solutions rather than political points. One path Hodel thinks worth exploring is possible limits on drilling in any region at a time so the ocean horizon would not be ringed by offshore rigs as far as the eye could see.