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Davis Plans 'Tooth and Nail' Fight Over Oil Drilling

January 15, 2002|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Davis administration ratcheted up the rhetoric Monday in an ongoing fight with the Bush administration over the federal government's push for new oil drilling off the California coast.

Last week, the Bush administration formalized its appeal of a federal court ruling requiring state officials to review any new oil exploration plans--a decision that effectively halted new oil drilling off the California coast.

Gov. Gray Davis is in "sharp disagreement" with the Bush administration on the matter and has no plans to back down, spokesman Steve Maviglio said Monday. "The governor plans to fight this tooth and nail all the way up to the Supreme Court if need be," he said.

At issue are 36 tracts in federal waters between Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties that were leased to oil companies from 1968 to 1984. The leases are not covered by state and federal moratoriums that prohibit new drilling.

Mary Nichols, the state's resources secretary, said although it is up to the California Coastal Commission to decide the leases' fate, she couldn't conceive of a scenario in which drilling would be allowed.

She also brushed aside as unacceptable a settlement offer presented by her federal counterparts, saying that the state would have been forced to relinquish its right to make sure new drilling plans conform to state environmental protections.

Nichols said the best oil was removed from these offshore areas years ago. What's left, she said, is so heavy and viscous that it resembles asphalt. Any spill would be devastating to birds and marine mammals, she said.

"This stuff is deadly to marine life," Nichols said. "We're not talking about trivial damage in the event of a spill."

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