Panelists push accountability, environmental protections at oil spill town hall

Panelists and Coast Report staff participate in the "Our Coast, Our Future" town hall on Oct. 27. 

Panelists at the Orange Coast College virtual town hall “Our Coast, Our Future” on Wednesday discussed the necessary responses to the recent oil spill off the Orange County coast.

The town hall was presented by Coast Report, Garrison Honors Center and Green Coast Day, and the panelists included Orange County Second District Supervisor Katrina Foley, Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik, California Congressional candidate Harley Rouda, California Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris and OCC Political Science professor Vesna Marcina. Over 140 people attended the town hall meeting over Zoom.

Several panelists spoke to the importance of regulation for and oversight of oil companies like Amplify Energy, who is likely at fault for the oil spill. Marcina and Hiltzik explained that regulators can become “captured” by the industries they are supposed to regulate, to the point where regulations no longer serve the public interest.

“We have sort of an endemic problem in government regulation, which is that the government never wants to actually devote the resources that are necessary for its own agencies to do all the regulation themselves,” Hiltzik said. “So they begin to outsource regulatory responsibility to the industries themselves.”

This pattern has contributed to less accountability for the oil industry. Petrie-Norris said that the California Assembly Select Committee on the Orange County Oil Spill is working to address the lack of legislative oversight.

“What laws need to be changed? Where do our regulations or inspection protocols or response protocols need to be changed and need to be updated to reflect the lessons from this disaster?” she said.

The panel also discussed environmental issues that the oil spill brought to light. Foley promoted general beach cleanup as a way for college students to get involved with the county’s recovery from the spill.

“Start by volunteering to clean up. Go to a beach day cleanup. You can’t believe how much styrofoam and plastic makes its way into the Back Bay,” she said. “Consider advocating for no styrofoam, plastic or straws on campus.”

Rouda emphasized the long-term effects of continued reliance on fossil fuels. He said that climate change from high levels of carbon dioxide can increase storms and other natural disasters that can damage oil wells and make spills more likely to happen.

“If we continue to rely on fossil fuels, the leaks are going to continue and continue at a greater rate,” Rouda said.

Multiple panelists discussed ending offshore drilling through legislation at the state and federal levels, a policy that the Coast Report editorial board supports. California already has a ban on new offshore drilling projects, but the state and the country need more significant action to prevent oil spills, according to Petrie-Norris.

“We need to mobilize across the nation to ensure that at the federal level, we permanently ban new oil drilling off of the coast,” she said. “Then hopefully at the federal level we can begin to end existing operations as well.”

Foley acknowledged the difficulties of moving away from offshore oil drilling, particularly for the workforce involved in oil production.

“We need to have a simultaneous plan to protect the workers to transition from those dirty, toxic jobs to clean energy jobs,” she said.

Hiltzik emphasized the role that tourism plays in California’s economy and how the oil spill has hurt popular Orange County destinations.

“I think the economic impact of closing down offshore oil production would be limited. We might lose some jobs on land pipeline companies and terminal companies,” Hiltzik said. “But the risk of greater cost from accidents is, I think, much greater, and we have seen that the costs are concentrated on coastal communities.”

Between the regulation for oil companies and the ecological disasters that result from oil spills, all panelists agreed that it is time for substantial change.

“The most fundamental lesson from this is really simple: when there is drilling, there is spilling,” Petrie-Norris said. “It is long past time to ban offshore drilling along the coast.”

A video of the town hall is available on Coast Report’s YouTube channel.

A podcast of the town hall is available on Coast Report’s Spotify channel

A transcript of the town hall is available here

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