SAN FRANCISCO—California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today stood his ground on offshore drilling, declining to join a call by fellow Republicans, including President Bush and John McCain, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, to lift a moratorium on drilling off the coast of California and other coastal states. McCain said this week that he supports allowing states to determine whether they want to tap into the oil reserves beneath their coastal waters. In California, at least, there appear to be powerful political forces against the idea.
"California's coastline is an international treasure," Schwarzenegger said in a statement today. "I do not support lifting this moratorium on new drilling off our coast."
Schwarzenegger was quick to acknowledge that the high cost of gasoline, which is selling for an average of $4.58 a gallon in the state, is taking a toll on California even more than other states. Recent national polls show as many as 67 percent of voters believe offshore drilling is a good solution. But Schwarzenegger today threw his support behind conservation and alternative fuels, instead. "We are in this situation because of our dependence on traditional petroleum-based oil," Schwarzenegger said. "The direction our nation needs to go in, and where California is already headed, is toward greater innovation in new technologies and new fuel choices for consumers. That is the way we will ultimately reduce fuel costs and also protect our environment."
Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has also declared his opposition to lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling.
This is not the first time—nor is it likely to be the last—that the iconoclastic governor of California has refused to toe his own party's line. Political analysts say most Republican voters in California probably agree more with Bush and McCain on this issue than they do with Schwarzenegger. The state's Senate minority leader, Dave Cogdill, said Wednesday in a news conference that he believed offshore drilling would be good for the state. "Personally, yes, I believe we need to be drilling in our own reserves," Cogdill said. "We need to use the resources available to us in this country." Driving down the cost of gasoline and reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil are both legitimate reasons to resume drilling, he said: "So I am a very strong supporter, as I think most of my caucus is, in the catch phrase, 'Drill here, drill now, pay less."
Still, in California, the power ultimately lies with the Democratically controlled legislature, and with Schwarzenegger's support, their views on drilling are unlikely to change. "Californians are all too familiar with the consequences of offshore drilling," one of California's two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein, said in a statement issued Tuesday, citing the 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, which damaged miles of coastline. Karen Bass, the newly appointed speaker of the State Assembly, agreed. "The idea of increasing offshore drilling off the coast of California I think is absurd, and I can't even imagine we would entertain that," Bass said.