In January 1969, a Union Oil Company well located in a federally-controlled drilling area of the Santa Barbara channel blew out, spilling millions of gallons of crude into the ocean. After a one-week, federally-mandated shut-down of the channel wells, Interior Secretary Walter Hickel lifted the ban allowing other sites to resume drilling. Perhaps the lifting of the federal ban is what initially prompted questions to Governor Reagan regarding a state-initiated ban on drilling off the California coast. Though a lover of nature, Reagan reiterated his conviction that responsible conservation could not be allowed to effectively become a repeal of the Industrial Revolution. Quoth Reagan:
"all of us would be happier if progress didn't require some of the things that take place." But...there must be a happy medium" between the needs of progress, not only in the Santa Barbara channel but in other areas of industrial development, and preservation of natural beauty. n. a. (1969, February 7). Reagan won't act. The Spokesman-Review, p. 1
The irony was that California regulations were already stricter than the federal ones. (Remember, the blow-out occurred at a federally-controlled site).
A major concern to state and local officials is strengthening of federal rules to meet those of state regulations governing drilling for oil under the ocean. Gov. Ronald Reagan had said that the federal standards are only a third as strict as the state's. He has called on the federal government to adopt the state's tougher minimum regulations. n. a. (1969, February 18). Company officials asked to explain causes of oil leak. The Bulletin, p. 12.
By early March, Sec. Hickel announced that the Reagan administration had been cooperative with efforts to execute an "across the board" review of offshore drilling regulations. n. a. (1969, March 6). Hickel allows Union Oil Co. to start drilling. St. Petersburg Times, p. 14-A.
In contrast, to Reagan's rather even-handed approach to balancing ecology with economic development, Speaker of the California Assembly Jesse Unruh (D.) introduced a bill describing oil production itself as an "ultra hazardous" activity entailing "extreme danger to property." Unruh sought to force companies to accept 100% liability for any property damages suffered by individuals or governments in the case of runaway off-shore drilling. As if this were not draconian enough, as the bill made its way through committee its original focus on off-shore drilling was deemed insufficient, and the language was changed to apply to all drilling activities. n.a. (1969, April 30). Californians move to place drillers liable for damage. The Bulletin, p. 11.
Aside from the obviously questionable assertion that drilling for oil was a extreme threat to California homeowners, a Richard Roddin article from July of 1969 belies what I suspect was Unruh's real target--getting the State's hands on the wealth of oil companies. In reporting on the gridlock surrounding state budget negotiations, Roddin said that "demands by the [Democrats] for tax reform and increased school financing were are the bottom of the controversy." Roddin, R. (1969, July 1). Dispute leaves state dangling minus budget. The Modesto Bee, p. A-1. Now the language of "tax reform" is frequently used by politicians to obfuscate their real intentions. All "tax reform" means, is that a change is sought; But what is really important to citizens is what specific changes are being sought, and what are the likely effects of such changes? Roddin went on to note that a proposed compromise bill, which came to the Assembly floor in the was rejected by the Democrats. What's revealing is the reason given for the rejection:
And so--I would suggest-- the benignly-phrased "tax reform" the Democrats wanted, really boiled down to, "We want to get our hands on the oil companies profits." This is really nothing more than the Left-wing canard we've heard so frequently from President Obama that the wealthy are not "paying their fair share"
The main feature...was an increase in state aid for schools from $105 million, the amount proposed by the governor to $198.2 million. It seemed that this met one of the principal demands of the Democrats, more school money. But tax reform was missing...In urging defeat of the report, Unruh...said one thing the Democrats are concerned about is that six major oil companies take in $6.6 billion and pay only 6 per cent on their profits...Roddin, R. (1969, July 1). Dispute leaves state dangling minus budget. The Modesto Bee, p. A-6.
So, to review, we had a private company oil leak on a federally-leased strip of land, while the feds' drilling regulations were more lax than the state regulations in effect under Governor Reagan; And in the immediate aftermath of the spill, the Reagan administration was (apparently) in full-cooperation with the Interior Department to review and revise existing drilling regulations. The overall picture, then, is one of Governor Reagan doing all he can to help the feds clean up their own mess.
Meanwhile, Unruh and the Democrats were attempting to effectively prohibit all drilling in California--hence, eliminating all the energy-sector jobs that that came with drilling. When his bill failed (by a single vote) to pass the Assembly, charges were made (conveniently enough, by unnamed accusers) that Reagan was somehow responsible for its defeat. In response, Reagan drew attention to the fact that Unruh himself wasn't even present during the vote. At the time, Unruh was out campaigning for governor. Apparently, the Democrat considered his leadership so important, that he simply couldn't be bothered to come off the campaign trail and actually exercise some of it. But then, that would never happen today, right?