Oil spill along Huntington Beach oozes into Orange County politics

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Workers rake up crude oil, after more than 3,000 barrels of crude oil leaked from a ruptured pipeline into the Pacific Ocean in Newport Beach, California, U.S., October 7, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. Photo by David Swanson/Reuters.

Environmental issues have historically polarized Orange County. So what shape is the recent oil spill taking in local politics, a little more than a week after the spill was discovered? 

According to the Coast Guard, the spill doesn’t seem to be as catastrophic as originally forecasted, says Gustavo Arellano, columnist for the LA Times and regular Greater LA contributor. 

“Instead of 144,000 gallons of crude oil spilled, now they say it could be as little as 50,000 or as much as 130,000. … That said, they're finding oil down in San Diego. The cleanup is going on. We still haven't seen any mammals being affected just yet.”

He notes that the City of Huntington Beach reopened the affected beach today, and Newport Harbor recently opened too. “The officials, they know there's a cleanup ahead of them, but they do not want their economies to be more affected than they already have been,” Arellano says.

For years, a debate has been brewing around how environmentally-conscious Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Dana Point, and San Clemente want to get, he points out. 

“This oil spill is very much a wake-up call for everyone involved… ‘Okay, we all live in this wonderful coast that is just an economic engine for these cities in particular and Orange County in general. We can’t have something like this happen again, so do we want to be against oil?’ And of course, the Republican Party historically, they’ve been very cozy with … energy industries.”

According to Arrellano, Democratic members of the State Assembly, State Senate, and U.S. Congress are going to push for an outright ban on any oil exploration.

“On the other hand, you have Michelle Steel, the congresswoman who represents Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, and she of course is saying, ‘Well, we do gotta clean it up, and what a tragedy.’ But now she’s accusing Democrats of politicizing the issue because they’ve pointed out she has accepted campaign contributions from oil companies.”

Arrellano says the spill could potentially represent a danger for Steel in the 2022 election, depending on how quickly they clean up in Huntington Beach and whether or not Steel appears to be beholden to oil companies rather than responding to the concerns of the people affected.

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