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West Coast Lawmakers Band Together to Request Drilling Ban

May 14, 2010

SEATTLE, Wash. - Both Washington senators have joined colleagues from Oregon and California to introduce a bill to permanently ban oil drilling off the West coast. Conservation and fishing industry groups say there's already plenty to worry about, with offshore drilling in Alaska and tanker traffic along the coast. They are voicing support for the Gulf Coast oil cleanup efforts, and cautioning Northwesterners that it could happen here.

Salmon fisherman Pete Knutson in Seattle says the local industry already takes some precautions.

"Many of our guys are involved in some training programs, and there's some employment for the fishermen on a training basis to deploy booms, things like that. But, that would be our 'worst nightmare' scenario, especially given the problems we're already facing in terms of salmon habitat, here locally. This would really be a killer."

They're hoping the BP oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will also prompt Congress to act more quickly on climate legislation that requires serious support for cleaner energy sources. Knutson, who runs the Loki Fish Company in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, believes the health of the environment is at stake, but also the futures of many small Northwest businesses.

"It's not a single, large corporation, so people don't understand the tremendous multiplier effect that comes out, from a single boat. You're hiring welders, and electronics guys and crewmen, and everything else."

Gov. Chris Gregoire says Washington coastal waters support 162,000 jobs and industries worth more than $9 billion; she also favors a drilling ban. However, all six of the bill's sponsors are Democrats, and there is wide Republican support for increasing drilling to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

A companion bill in the U.S. House is co-sponsored by Representatives Brian Baird and Norm Dicks. The House version of the West Coast Ocean Protection Act is HR 5213.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA