Trump Administration To Allow Oil and Gas Drilling in CA Land Monument

Spring wildflowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument     Photo: Bureau of Land Management

In a quiet decision in late May, the Trump Administration said it will open up California’s Carrizo Plain National Monument, which is known for its stunning wildflowers, to oil and gas drilling and a pipeline, the LA Times reported last week.  Numerous local and national environmental groups had been successful since 2017  holding off the Interior Department’s approval of the oil and gas project.  The Department said the “new well poses no undue health or safety concerns, has no significant impacts to the environment and is consistent with management directives for the Carrizo Plain National Monument,” and continued, “America’s free markets will help determine if energy development on public lands is feasible.”

Why This Matters:  This project is inconsistent with the purposes of the monument and will surely cause environmental harm.  Known as  “the Serengeti of California,” Carrizo Plain is just west of the state’s largest oil field. Environmentalists value it as an example of what California’s Central Valley looked like before it was overtaken by agriculture, and it is home to several threatened or endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox. The decision makes no environmental or economic sense given the low price of gas now and sets an awful precedent.

Bipartisan Local Opposition

The local California assemblyman, Jordan Cunningham who is a Republican, opposes the decision, saying that he is “disappointed in the federal government’s decision” at the site and urged officials to reconsider.  He told the Times, “San Luis Obispo County and California does not want or need to open up our most precious pieces of open space for additional oil drilling,” Last October, in order to decrease oil and gas production due to climate change, California Gov. Gavin Newsome signed a law banning its development on state-owned lands, but this area is owned by the federal government.  The project would be located near “Caliente Mountain, about 20 miles south of the monument’s biggest tourist draw, Soda Lake, and would involve reopening an oil pad that has been out of operation since the 1950s,” according to The Times.

The Monument’s Special Features

Carrizo Plain became a national monument in 2001, and the 204,000-acre site is a popular destination in recent years because of its spectacular super blooms. According to the Bureau of Land Management, that operates the monument, the area is “a remnant of a natural habitat where vast open grasslands, white alkali flats of the ancient Soda Lake, and a broad plain rimmed by mountains is home to a variety of wildlife and plant species—including several that are threatened or endangered. The area has significant cultural and historical resources and where evidence of the valley-carving and mountain-moving San Andreas Fault can also be seen.”  The endangered or threatened species protected by the monument include San Joaquin kit foxes, San Joaquin antelope squirrels and Kern mallow plants.

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