SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – President Barack Obama signed an executive order Thursday that will permanently ban oil drilling off the Northern California coast by expanding the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries.

The president’s order set into motion 18 to 24 months of hearings and reviews by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It also sidesteps a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that had thwarted efforts to protect thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean from Bodega Bay to Mendocino.

Drilling has been banned through short-term moratoria. But retiring Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) convinced the White House to use the NOAA sanctuary process to enact a permanent moratorium.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

“This is a matter of economic common sense. Jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance. Our commercial fishing industry depends on a thriving marine ecosystem,” said Woolsey, who has fought to protect the coastline for years.

“No one is going to vacation on the Sonoma Coast if they’re going to be looking at oil derricks,” she said.

The oil industry opposes adding another 50 miles of coastline up to 30 miles out to sea to the existing reserves that extend from Big Sur to Marin County, but approval by NOAA is almost certain once the hearings conclude.

NOAA has the power to set aside those waters for protection without Congressional approval, creating what some have characterized as a marine equivalent of a national park.

Congressman Sam Farr (D-Monterey) described the area as a “Yosemite of the Sea,” saying it is the culmination of years of work by Bay Area members of Congress.

“We’ll have almost the entire California coast in Northern California protected from adverse, detrimental mining and other kinds of activities which are incompatible with fish habitats,” Farr said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer proudly announced a doubling of the two marine sanctuaries. “We’re saving one of the state’s most prized treasures,” Boxer said.

“We will protect this area forever from oil and gas drilling, the introduction of non-native species, discharges from cruise ships and other vessels, and disturbance of the sea bed,” she said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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