Oil company, environmental groups in secret deal
January 24, 2010
Three major Santa Barbara environmental groups allegedly agreed to support a controversial offshore oil drilling project in 2008, in exchange for $100,000 and other benefits. [Associated Press]
The confidential agreement involved Plains Exploration & Production and local environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Center. According to a copy of the agreement, obtained by an investigative reporting web site in Sacramento, the three groups, previously opposed to offshore drilling, agreed to lobby on behalf of the Tranquillon Ridge project, intended for off the coast of Santa Barbara.
The three groups endorsed the proposed drilling project in 2008. In return, Plains agreed to a $100,000 donation, plus an additional donation of 3,900 acres to the Trust for Public Land, and another $1.5 million to a fund for hybrid buses.
As part of the secret agreement, the three environmental groups agreed to lobby in writing for the project and testify at public hearings before Santa Barbara County and the California Coastal Commission. The groups were to be paid $50,000 in advance and $50,000 upon final approval of all the oil leases.
The project was killed by the State Lands Commission, though Governor Schwarzenegger is trying to revive the project. Assemblyman Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara is concerned that Abel Maldonado will be appointed lieutenant governor next month – an appointment that also includes serving on the Lands Commission. Nava worries that Maldonado will vote to allow Tranquillon Ridge to proceed.
Meanwhile, Judy Rossiter of the pro-drilling group Save Our State reacted to the news of the secret agreement: “A group of leading environmental organizations from Santa Barbara County considered the benefits to be greater than the perceived risks of expanded offshore production in our coastal waters. And, on that, we couldn’t agree more.”