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 

Op-Ed’s are written by community members and organizations, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.
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Written by EDC

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  1. I have been scratching my head trying to figure out why the Democratic Party has been pursuing energy policies that will assure its demise in the November mid-term election and the 2024 presidential election. With inflation at record highs, choking off the production of energy will further drive up costs and inflict financial pain on the swing voters who are so crucial to the Democratic Party. The only explanation I can think of is that the “green” movement, perhaps even some of the organizations named in this article, is a Trojan horse that has been foisted upon the Democratic Party. It must be a big oil/ republican plot. Why else would the Democratic Party squander its electoral prospects and ensure the Republican Party takes the house, senate, and presidency? Once the republicans take power, you can bet your bottom dollar that permitting for oil and gas development will be streamlined and production will expand like never before. On top of all that, republicans will be credited with relieving the financial pain of the working class as energy prices fall and the economy booms anew. Clearly the republicans and big oil are behind this “green” push to choke off energy production, I just can’t see any other explanation.

  2. Instead of spending literally tens of millions of dollars(per USFW draft recovery plan for SB county) in just our county alone ‘protecting’ the CTS and limiting rights from property owners, why not fund a salamander breeding program at cal poly or similar. Whoever figures it out gets a $1M grant. Seems like we are going the expensive and difficult route. I feel these poor creatures(insert a different species depending what area you are in) are just pawns in the political tug of war and no one actually cares about them and the suits on both sides get rich. You can literally buy an incidental take permit to kill them.

  3. Yes, it’s better for the environment if we forgo the local extraction of oil we still need and use daily, where we have some of the strictest environmental protections in the world (streamlined permits or not), and extract the oil in a foreign country that doesn’t have those protections, where the oil company is free to pollute with little to no oversight, then load it onto tanker ships burning bunker fuel (very dirty) to ship it halfway around the world to where we still need and use this oil daily. NO, it’s only better for OUR environment. Environmental NIMBYism strikes again!

  4. 1) Drilling more oil here will have exactly zero impact on oil or gas prices set on global markets. Zero.
    2) If our environmental regulations are so safe and projects are so low-impact, why are we still having pipeline bursts and oil spills? And why are taxpayers always left footing the bill to clean up the mess? It’s because companies using your bad-faith argument pay hundreds of millions to lobby legislators and regulators to weaken regulations so their shareholders can make extra bucks.
    3) If you haven’t looked around in the past two decades, our local economy is no longer based on extracting raw materials and screwing up nature. It’s now based on preserving natural beauty to attract tourists and retirees.
    4) Let’s all be honest here, you and Y’All-Qaeda don’t care at all about the environment of the Middle East or Africa. Another flight of rhetoric for debate club or a lobbying/PR firmthat has no basis in reality.

  5. The Repukes goal is to make life a living hell.
    Supreme Court invalidates ‘important tool’ to regulate climate pollution
    The Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in a 6-3 ruling handed down Tuesday that will have far-reaching implications on the federal government’s ability to fight climate change.

  6. Below is a link to the Supreme Court ruling. They did not prohibit the type of regulation the epa devised. The ruling simply found the epa does not have the statutory authority to implement the regulation, meaning the congress never delegated that authority to the epa. The regulation could be implemented if congress votes to implement it or to give the epa the authority to implement it. However, it is unlikely such a law could make it through Congress due to bipartisan opposition.

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