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Tighter Standards for Offshore Oil Sought : Shift Control From Interior Dept. to EPA, Badham Says

March 27, 1987|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN | Times Urban Affairs Writer

Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) has joined Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) in legislative efforts to impose federal clean air standards on offshore oil-drilling platforms.

Some officials said Thursday that new offshore rigs would be incapable of meeting the strict standards and thus would be banned by the legislation until better technology is developed. Others were less certain, but oil-industry officials were viewing the bill with concern.

"This action will eliminate the double standard that now exists by forcing the offshore oil producers to abide by the same stringent standards that onshore industry is subjected to under the Clean Air Act," Badham said Wednesday on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Measure Introduced

Badham introduced the House version of the bill Wednesday, two weeks after Wilson's version was introduced in the Senate. "Unless they (oil companies) can show zero pollution will be added (by new oil rigs), they can't go in there," Badham said Thursday, referring to coastal areas that the Department of the Interior is considering opening for new oil and gas exploration.

The legislation faces an uphill battle because of expected opposition from within the Reagan Administration, especially from Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel, and lawmakers from key oil-producing states.

The proposed legislation would shift regulatory responsibility from the Interior Department to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Clean Air Act.

"This is great," Laguna Beach City Councilman Robert Gentry said Thursday. "I don't see how the rigs could meet the new standards."

"It's about time our Washington representatives went to bat for the citizens of Orange County and California," said Orange County Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, who was attending a state Air Resources Board meeting in Sacramento on Thursday. Wieder, an ARB member, flew to Washington in 1985 to discuss the air quality issue with federal officials. "This could push the industry toward new technology, which is where it's at," Wieder said.

Robert L. Getts, government relations manager for Los Angeles-based Western Oil and Gas Assn., said the oil industry had hoped that research into how offshore rigs affect onshore air pollution, and existing rule-making efforts sponsored by the Interior Department, "could have been completed" before the Wilson and Badham legislation was introduced.

"It's a short bill," Getts said of the legislation. "But it has a big impact on us. The ramifications are many."

Getts said he did not know whether the oil industry could meet Clean Air Act standards if they are applied to offshore wells. "We're still analyzing it," he said.

Under Clean Air Act regulations, new industrial sources of pollution are permitted in areas that do not meet clean air standards only when an offset--such as closing down an old smokestack factory--is feasible. The Los Angeles-Orange County region is an area that does not meet clean air standards. In the past, the EPA has threatened to impose sanctions, such as freezing federal payments to California for some projects, such as highways.

Opponents of new offshore wells have argued that ocean breezes will push air pollution from new oil platforms into the Los Angeles-Orange County basin, compounding the region's unsuccessful efforts to meet 1987 federal air quality standards.

Despite strong protests from coastal residents in Orange County and elsewhere, the Interior Department plans to open up 1,120 tracts for oil exploration off the California coast--tracts that previously were barred from development by a federal moratorium. The moratorium has expired, and state and federal negotiators have been unsuccessful in hammering out a new agreement.

At the same time, a mediation task force involving representatives from the oil and gas industry, beach cities, and state and federal agencies has been meeting to set up the Interior Department's first air quality standards for offshore wells, assuming that the Clean Air Act would not apply.

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