Op-Ed: Feds Oil & Gas Plan Will Harm Endangered Species in Santa Barbara County
By Environmental Defense Center, Santa Barbara County Action Network, and Sierra Club
Environmental groups expressed alarm at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of a plan that will expedite the permitting process for oil and gas activities that will harm three endangered and threatened species in Santa Barbara County. The plan, which encompasses a broad range of activities, from exploration to drilling and production, storage, transportation, and decommissioning, will allow oil companies to kill or injure the endangered California tiger salamander and Lompoc yerba santa and the threatened California red-legged frog. Although titled a “General Conservation Plan,” this plan is a holdover from the Trump Administration designed to expedite oil and gas drilling in Santa Barbara County, at the expense of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants, the sensitive coastline, and the health of our communities.
“The federal government’s plan to streamline permitting for oil development activities will harm threatened and endangered species such as the California red-legged frog and California tiger salamander,” said Rachel Kondor, staff attorney for the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), a public interest environmental law firm that represents its own members as well as the Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter of the Sierra Club and Santa Barbara County Action Network. “This plan will encourage an increase in oil and gas development which also threatens our communities’ air quality and water supplies, all at a time when we need to be transitioning away from dirty fossil fuels.”
The General Conservation Plan was originally proposed in 2017. The Plan covers more than 674,000 acres and replaces the normal requirement that oil companies seek individual permits before harming protected species or disturbing their habitats. This proposal was developed after the County of Santa Barbara denied an oil drilling project in 2016, in part due to the potential impacts to the California tiger salamander and Lompoc yerba santa. Subsequent applications to the County for 700 new wells in the Cat Canyon oil field would similarly impact these and other species, including the California red-legged frog. Some of these animals, such as the Santa Barbara County population of the California tiger salamander, are near extinction and live nowhere else on the planet.
“Ironically, the Service contends that the Plan will fulfill a need for better conservation of these species, when in fact it may pave the way for their destruction,” noted Kondor. EDC and our clients submitted extensive comments and expert reports explaining the devastating impact this Plan will have on imperiled wildlife. In addition, we noted that the Plan does not ensure that such impacts will be avoided or mitigated.
“This is a major disappointment. We expect the Federal Government to protect people and wildlife from oil and gas, not enable it,” said Jonathan Ullman, director of the Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This is the 11th hour for climate change, but they aren’t looking at the clock.”
“The General Conservation Plan will fast-track dangerous oil and gas projects that threaten our air quality and drinking water, putting public health at risk," said Ken Hough, Executive Director of SBCAN.
The Plan was also opposed by Representative Salud Carbajal and Senators Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla, who asked the Service to withdraw the proposed General Conservation Plan because the Plan fails to adequately consider all of the impacts of oil and gas development, including impacts to air and water quality and endangered species in Santa Barbara County.
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The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection. Program areas include climate and energy, and protecting clean water, the Santa Barbara Channel, and open space and wildlife. Learn more about EDC at www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org
The Sierra Club is a national, environmental organization that protects communities, wild places, and the planet. The Sierra Club Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter represents those two counties. Learn more at https://www.sierraclub.org/santa-barbara-ventura
Santa Barbara County Action Network works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities. SBCAN advocates a holistic approach to community planning that integrates housing, open space, and transportation to meet the needs of all members of our community and future generations. Learn more at www.sbcan.org
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