Monday, June 5, 2023

Finding Sanctuary: Oil Spills, Science and Bipartisanship

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Herald is publishing a column by former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, along with Sam Farr, Dan Hafley, Fred Keely, and Dr. Lisa Vooninck, who tell the Sanctuary’s story. All of these contributors serve on the board of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and were associated with the sanctuary’s designation.,

Pushing the boundary of the potential Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary far enough to protect the waters coveted by the oil industry between Santa Cruz and San Francisco was a priority in the late 1980s, and so was addressing potential spills from oil tankers , before the two spills hit. In 1989 and 1990 the U.S.

The Coast Guard sought public input on whether offshore oil platforms should coexist with vessel traffic lanes off California. Save Our Shores had advocated mandatory lanes as well as better spill preparedness, and at a hearing in San Francisco, Santa Cruz City Councilman John Laird and Monterey County Supervisor Karin Strasser-Kauffman were among those who spoke. Finally, 50 miles of advisory lanes were installed with spill preparedness measures, including response equipment, at the Moss Landing Power Plant, which was owned by PG&E, although it diverted oil in favor of natural gas derived from inland pipelines. had stopped using.

Approved state and federal laws in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the 1990 American Trader spill from Huntington Beach provided tools to prevent and respond to future disasters. Equally powerful were the television images from those spills, fueling public concern.

The presidential election’s support for the largest border option for intertidal invertebrates and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary grew and was bi-partisan. A letter promoting it was sent to the administration of President George H.W. Bush by Congressman Leon Panetta and Tom Campbell, a Republican from Silicon Valley, plus state senators, Republican John Seymour and Democrat Alan Cranston. Republican Governor Pete Wilson was also a supporter. But acceptance of this large area was dependent on documentary evidence that it contained a continuous, diverse ecosystem. A case was made using profiles of the area’s biology created by a consortium of six Central Coast counties coordinated by Marin County planner Warner Chabot. Its board had one representative from each county, including Monterey County Supervisor Mark Del Piero and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Gary Patton. Its work was supported by offshore drilling revenue distributed to counties to mitigate its impact.

Chabot created a map of the area’s biology to assess what damage would be caused by offshore oil development. This supplemented the organic inventory maintained by resource managers. It also fueled the case for extending the sanctuary’s boundary from Santa Cruz north to the southern border of the Bay of Farallon (renamed Greater Farallon in 2014) to the National Marine Sanctuary. A major argument was involved at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach, north of Half Moon Bay. It is one of the most biologically diverse intertidal regions in California, said to be comparable to Point Lobos in its complexity, and known for its diverse population of invertebrates.

Bob Breen, Fitzgerald’s naturalist, and ranger from 1969 to 2004 told me this for my Santa Cruz Sentinel “Our Ocean Backyard” column in 2010: “Moss Beach is the last large and complex rocky intertidal beneath the Golden Gate and has many features These were the six endemic species discovered here and the appearance of 25 species new to science. The Fitzgerald has a range range of over 50 species. This has certainly changed due to ocean warming, which has led to southern species of moss. In between have seen the migration and movement of species that had previously bordered their northern range here to move north.” Breen died in 2013, leaving the stewardship’s legacy.

Public hearings on the proposed sanctuary were held in Monterey, Half Moon Bay, Sacramento and Santa Cruz. The Center for Marine Conservation funded, and the Environmental Working Group, designed and mailed an “action alert” to thousands of people to engage in hearings and written input on the plan in the pre-Internet era. Almost everyone supported the greatest extent and, as Coastal Commission manager Les Stranad said in his testimony, “public opinion drives public policy.”

John von Rees and Carl Kempton, representing San Luis Obispo County, proposed extending the range south to cover its waters up to Point Sal, just below the Santa Barbara county line. Although area Congressman Bill Thomas did not support that proposal and it did not succeed, today there is a more inclusive proposal in the form of Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, with better opportunities for designation. The planned 1990 designation of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was delayed, the first Gulf War raised concerns about American oil supplies – including potential off the coast of California – and there were only two NOAA employees, Mark Murray-Brown and Ralph Lopez, Were working on this huge project, with a little help. Dr. Jim Rothe, an aide to State Assemblyman Sam Farr, described the plethora of letters, applications, and proposed rule changes in NOAA’s in-box at its Washington, D.C. headquarters, indicating a crushing backlog.

An oil man defies his industry

After his inauguration in 1989, President George HW Bush – who was in the Texas oil business – appointed a task force to study the offshore oil issue. Running for re-election in 1992, a poll of California voters showed that Bush was behind his opponent, Bill Clinton. He needed the state to win re-election, and in doing so, political adviser Stuart Spencer, a veteran of Ronald Reagan’s campaigns for governor and president, proposed that Bush raise concerns for coastal security. Huh. Republican Congressman Campbell also called on the Secretary of Commerce to persuade the Commerce Secretary to open the discussion to include a larger sanctuary limit.

In June 1992 the White House announced a 10-year moratorium on offshore oil in California and authorized the implementation of the largest limit for Monterey Bay Sanctuary. But the final map of Sanctuary presented some problems, and it almost didn’t happen, as I’ll explain in my next and last installment.

Dan Hafley currently serves on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation board. He was the director of Save Our Shores from 1986–1993, and O’Neill Sea Odyssey from 1999–2019. he can be reached here [email protected], For more information on the 30th anniversary of the sanctuary, visit

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