In the wacky political world of Sacramento, a good idea to safely extract oil for 14 years off the Santa Barbara coast was killed last week. The idea probably only got as far as it did for the wrong reason, anyway: it promised to pump $1.8 billion in new taxes into the state treasury. Sacramento doesn't need more money. It needs to live on money it already takes out of the private sector.
There were some good reasons for the proposal's defeat. We agree with critics who frowned on the unsavory end-run required around a 71-year tradition of offshore oil drilling being governed by the state Lands Commission. The bill would have given the governor's office one-time authority over the new project. One-time exceptions to longstanding practices should raise an eyebrow.
We also agree that another eyebrow might rightly be raised because approval would have granted a noncompetitive contract to a single Texas company.
But we imagine defeat of Assembly Bill 23 owed more to environmentalists and their Democratic legislative friends' reflexive opposition to offshore drilling, even when shown to be ecologically safe.
If this tangled web of good and bad motives weren't enough, all the votes cast on AB23 were wiped off the official record as if nothing happened, in a rare procedural move that appears to protect legislators whose constituents might frown upon their "yes" votes.
Among other ironies was the advocacy of the idea's prime mover, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who long had insisted he always would oppose offshore drilling. It also was ironic last year when several environmental groups backed the idea in a tentative agreement in which the oil company, Plains Exploration and Production, promised that at the project's conclusion to stop production on four offshore rigs, remove onshore production facilities and donate 3,900 acres of Central Coast property it owns for permanent conservation and public use.
But in January, the three-member state Lands Commission opposed the idea, 2-1, which ultimately gave rise to Assemblyman Chuck DeVore's bill. We liked the Schwarzenegger-DeVore concept because it offered a long-term, new source of oil and would help keep energy prices down.
Perhaps the crowning irony is that by a significant margin Californians for two years have supported expanding oil drilling off the coast to address energy needs, according to polls.