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Oil spill

By   /   Saturday, January 31st, 2009  /   Comments Off on Oil spill

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The 40th anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill, widely credited with helping give birth to the environmental movement, would not seem to be a time to pay some new respect to the free enterprise system.

After all, the Jan. 29 offshore spill, which polluted beaches in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, led to a regime of new regulations for the energy industry. It also ushered in a no-growth, anti-business attitude that’s been the hallmark of politics on the South and Central Coasts.

But this year was marked by a different tone. Specifically:

President Barack Obama announced a series of moves designed to move California and other states away from traditional motor fuels and toward much higher-mileage vehicles. This separation of the automobile and energy industries is some of the best hope the nation has for a revival of manufacturing in the United States.

The economic stimulus plan, currently before Congress, would add money to improve California’s electric grid, promote alternative energy and give a boost to area companies such as Clipper Windpower, a leader in wind generation technology.

U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a longtime opponent of oil drilling off the coast, endorsed a proposal to allow Plains Petroleum to complete the development of its Tranquillon Ridge offshore field in return for early phase-out of four offshore platforms. Her endorsement could speed approval by the California Land Board, which was set to hear the matter on Jan. 29.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that there remain a few companies that just don’t get it when it comes to taking care of the environment.

One of them is Greka Energy, a Santa Maria-based company whose egregious behavior has drawn the ire of county, state and federal officials. The latest embarrassment was a Jan. 19 spill from a broken pipe that dumped more than 800 gallons of crude oil and water near Santa Maria.

Greka’s nagging infractions have led to a change of management and numerous enforcement actions including a state law that increased the fines for misbehaving.

Even some in the energy industry are getting sick and tired of actions by Greka that give the oil and gas business a bad name.

On the 40th anniversary of the oil spill, the energy industry, environmentalists and local governments are learning how to get along — and the region is taking the first major steps toward a greener and more vibrant economy.

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