All six candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have assured environmentalists that, if elected President, they would either scrap or review a controversial Reagan Administration plan for oil and gas development off the California coast.
The assurances were announced during a national coastal protection conference Monday in Santa Monica. The conference, which drew more than 700 participants, was organized by the same bipartisan coalition of legislators and environmentalists that blocked the Reagan Administration's efforts to expand oil and gas production off California.
Participants, primarily opponents of offshore oil and gas development, served notice that they will make coastal protection issues a litmus test for presidential candidates of both parties.
"I personally do not believe that a candidate for President of the United States has any chance to gain California's electoral votes . . . unless that candidate rejects Donald Hodel's five-year plan," said Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), a key organizer of the conference.
Five-year plans, which lay out the federal government's offshore oil and gas leasing policies, are required under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
2 Lease Sales Scheduled
Under the latest five-year plan submitted by Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel and approved by Congress by default, the first lease sale would take place two weeks after the new President takes office. That sale involves tracts off the Mendocino County coast. A second major lease sale, involving tracts between the Mexican border and the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County line, is scheduled in September, 1989.
Levine and Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-San Francisco) said they elicited the pledges from the Democratic presidential candidates during interviews that were videotaped before the conference and played back for the participants.
Five of the Democratic candidates said they would scrap the five-year drilling plan. They are former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois said that he would subject the plan to a new review.
Invitations to personally attend the conference or to be interviewed in advance were extended to all presidential candidates, Boxer said. None of the Republican candidates responded.
The pledges from the Democratic candidates drew sharp criticism from an oil industry spokesman. "It's a concern to us anytime you have top leaders at the federal level looking at this issue in very narrow terms," Robert Getts of the Los Angeles-based Western Oil and Gas Assn. said later.
"It concerns us a lot when the leaders keep conveying a lot of rhetoric about the dangers of this offshore oil development," he said. In 30 years of drilling, he said, there has been nothing approaching "the kind of devastation they're predicting."
Environmentalists said they want not only to eliminate Hodel's five-year offshore drilling plan, but to enact legislation creating ocean sanctuaries off the California coast to ban drilling and mining and to protect the marine environment. They will also seek stricter air pollution controls on offshore oil and gas rigs.
Democrats were not the only ones to assail the Hodel plan.
Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), a coastal protection advocate, also decried the Reagan Administration's five-year plan.
"The fact of the matter is we simply have to fight this leasing plan. It is not acceptable. I don't think there's anything he can do to make it acceptable," Wilson said.
Wilson also criticized efforts led by Hodel to strip the California Coastal Commission of its authority to review the environmental impact of oil and gas developments in federal waters off the state's coast.
'I will tell you that will not happen because it is not acceptable," Wilson declared.
Interior Department officials declined to attend the conference, organizers said.