Massive Huntington Beach oil spill highlights catastrophic state, federal government failures

Monday October 04, 2021

Local governments in California can take swift action to stop permitting new fossil fuel infrastructure that leads to similar catastrophes

As an ecologically disastrous oil spill of more than 120,000 gallons is devastating the coast of Huntington Beach, Calif., state and federal governments continue to obstruct efforts that would effectively protect the environment and the health of their citizens. This includes Gov. Gavin Newsom’s failure to say he would stop all new permitting for offshore drilling and a litany of federal noncompliance incidents and violations from the oil complex responsible for this spill. In the face of these failures, cities and counties throughout California must step in and take swift action to protect their communities by enacting policies that stop any new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built.

Until leaders like Newsom and the Biden Administration take on these responsibilities, Stand.earth’s SAFE Cities movement is spotlighting the role that local governments have to prevent catastrophes like this from occurring in the future. Any oil well or pipeline that is built will have spills. Based on mandates to protect public health and regulate land use, local governments have the authority to enact SAFE Cities-style policies that will stop these kinds of projects before they’re ever proposed and prevent future catastrophes. 

Nathan Taft, an Orange County-based policy expert for SAFE Cities, is available for comment Monday. Taft lives 10 miles from Huntington Beach and can speak to the specific actions that cities and counties can take, and the protections they can put in place.

“When there’s an oil spill, our immediate attention focuses on the tragedy and clean up efforts. Omitted from the conversation is the most important question, ‘How can we prevent catastrophes like this from happening in the future?' The answer is simple – stop permitting new oil and gas wells, and stop building new oil and gas infrastructure like pipelines and refineries,” Taft said. “It’s not ‘if’ an oil pipeline will spill, it’s ‘when.’ And if the federal and state government won’t do what’s necessary, it’s time for local jurisdictions to step up and protect their communities by passing SAFE policies that end the expansion of fossil fuels."

While coastal cities and counties in California do not have jurisdiction over offshore oil drilling facilities, in 2014, Santa Cruz County banned all onshore oil and gas activities and included onshore infrastructure that supports offshore operations. 

Even if the state or federal government permits new drilling, local municipalities can still influence the viability of those sites by blocking the infrastructure necessary to refine, store, or transport fossil fuels.

More examples of these SAFE Cities-style policies include the Culver City Council voting in June to phase out oil drilling in its portion of the Inglewood Oil Field, or in Richmond, Calif., where the City Council enacted a law in 2020 to ban coal from being shipped through its ports, thus blocking an export route to Asia. An additional example includes the city of Portland, Ore., banning all new fossil fuel storage facilities and terminals.

More about SAFE Cities:
SAFE Cities is a growing movement of neighbors, local groups, and elected officials phasing out fossil fuels and fast-tracking clean energy solutions to ensure a just transition. Already dozens of cities and counties across the US – and several more around the globe – have passed concrete policies to keep their communities SAFE from fossil fuels, build renewable energy infrastructure, and create good, long-term jobs.

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Media contacts: 

Peter Jensen, SAFE Cities Communications Coordinator, safemedia@stand.earth, +1 415 532 3817 (Pacific Time)

Nathan Taft, Digital and Communications Lead for SAFE Cities, nathan@stand.earth, +1 949 235 6130 (Pacific Time)