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.”

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Coast4U is incorrect. It is not at all unheard of – unfortunately – for “an environmental organization to enter into an agreement that requires it to support the project, not just agree not to oppose it” – and it was a pretty big deal in the COASTAL ZONE – for the Ballona Wetlands on the Los Angeles coast. And many of the mainstream environmental groups heralded it is a good deal, even though they hadn’t read the fine print.

It was a deal that not only enviros signed (the Friends of Ballona Wetlands and League for Coastal Protection – LCP), but also signed by CA League of Women Voters, California Coastal Commission, LA County, LA City and State Lands Commission (beside the developers, Playa Vista.) The worse part of the deal was that – if anyone took a different position (one of opposition), then the Friends of Ballona Wetlands and LCP were REQUIRED to write letters to the editor in response to opposition letters, to show up at hearings to testify if opponents were there to testify, etc., so it looked like the issue was one of disagreement between environmentalists, when it was about preserving more of the Ballona Wetlands. Every public interest lawyer who has seen this settlement has been horrified by it — and the Friends got $750K to do “interim restoration” – which has paid staff for some time, PLUS their lawyers’ fees, biologist fees, etc. And a relationship that still gets them big grants from corporate friends of the developers, like So. CA Edison, Sempra, etc.

Folks, the 100K is only a small part of this, even the 50K bonus. What is unheard of is for an environmental organization to enter into an agreement that requires it to support the project, not just agree not to oppose it. At least in the Coastal Zone I don’t think any major issue has ever had this happen before Even worse is that IN ADDITION to the 100K PXP can request them to “communicate their support to any other governmental agencies with entitlement jurisdiction.. in which event PXP shall pay EDC’s reasonable fees”. The other agencies are agencies other than the SLC, Santa Barbara County and the Coastal Commission, which includes Minerals Management Service and probably the legislature. The “fees” are unspecified as to amount. Thus EDC is acting as a paid lobbying organization for an oil company.

Also, read the contract re the land donation. The language makes it clear that PXP cannot guarantee that they can close the Gaviota Proccess facility which sits on part of the land and therefore cannot guarantee it will be donated.

So why would an environmental organization love the deal? Money can buy anything

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Wow everyone has their price. Even the enviromentalists.

There was a similar story last year with a slightly different spin.

IIRC, the enviro groups agreed not to protest limited expansion of something in exchange for a commitment from the oil co not do develop further. Or something.

Truth be told, I am getting too old for Remembering. Who else remembers this – or a similar – story broken last year?

I returned to Pismo this last year after living on the beach in Carpinteria the last 8 years. There I frequently saw a black cloud of smog hanging over the oil platforms offshore. There was a report in the local papers, when they were less friendly to oil, that the off shore oil platforms are diesel powered and the worst source of pollution in Santa Barbara County. Not only do they produce polluting products, but they pollute the air, while doing the production!!! Do we need a pall of smog overhead like our Big Cities???

The local air resources board should be checking those motors to make sure they are up to date.