Whose County is it Anyway?
By Seth Steiner
After reading the Final Environmental Impact Report and the Staff Recommendation regarding the ERG application for expanded oil development in Cat Canyon, I spoke with Mr. Errin Briggs, the energy specialist in the county’s Planning & Development Department. Our conversation was enlightening and troubling.
First of all, the consultant that provided the analysis for the county’s reports was selected and paid by the oil company seeking the permit. In the interest of maintaining at least an appearance of impartiality, this is simply unsupportable.
The other dismaying reality that was obvious from our conversation is that his P & D Department primarily sees these matters from the viewpoint of the oil companies. If an area has been historically zoned for oil development, then, case closed, that’s what should happen now and into the future, almost regardless of the environmental, health or economic consequences to residents of Santa Barbara County. This is a corruption of the CEQA process, requiring the project to be proven dangerous rather than shown to be safe. And when this standard is met, the facts are often ignored.
Even with this pro-oil prejudice, however, the following eye-popping paragraph appears embedded within the county report: “In summary, cumulative oil development within Cat Canyon oil field and corresponding oil transport would result in a significant and unavoidable impact associated with an accidental oil, produced water, or other hazardous material spill that could have substantial and long-term effects on… hydrological resources…”. This is the very groundwater that over 200,000 north-county residents depend on.
Separate from this is the fact that this company has chosen not to be a responsible corporate citizen. ERG refuses to pay $14.2 million in property taxes. This is money that could be used for schools and other pressing needs.
The Cat Canyon decision now stands with our five Planning Commissioners. Hopefully, they are aware of the glaring bias and inadequacy of the staff reports. After they vote, the County Supervisors, our directly elected officials, will have a say. Your voice counts here. Let them know your thoughts.
Seth Steiner has been an environmental consultant, with a graduate degree in air and water pollution, and is a member of the Advisory Committee of the San Antonio Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, a member of the Los Alamos Planning Advisory Committee, a founding board member of Safe Energy Now! North County, a board member of his homeowners association, and a resident of Los Alamos.
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