Enviros blast Arnold’s oil-for-parks plan

Amid the cacaphony of outrage we’re hearing today over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s state budget proposals, environmentalists say they’re aghast at his plan to drop General Fund support for California’s state parks and replace it with money from controversial, not-yet-approved new oil and gas leases off the Santa Barbara coast.

They say Schwarzenegger is trying to set up a false dilemma by pitting the interests of one of California’s greatest natural resources – its coastline – against another – its parks.

Coastwalk California board president Fran Gibson said her group strongly opposes any further General Fund cuts for state parks, which already have been whacked in recent years. “It is unconscionable to leverage the PXP project against state parks in this way and use our coast and state parks as pawns in his budget game,” she said. “Both are critical natural public assets for current and future generations of Californians.”

California Coastal Protection Network Director Susan Jordan said the governor’s hypocrisy “cannot be overstated.

“He would rather reverse forty years of bi-partisan California state policy against offshore oil drilling to push through a pet project over 100 statewide groups have joined to oppose rather than require oil companies extracting oil from our state’s sea beds pay a severance tax – their fair share to taxpayers for doing business in California,” Jordan said. “We are the only oil producing state in America that does not tax extraction of gas and oil on lands owned by the state. This would bring in more than $1.5 billion annually to the state’s General Fund.”

And the California State Parks Foundation rejects the governor’s plan as “the wrong idea at the wrong time,” said president Elizabeth Goldstein.

“It’s noteworthy that the Governor has finally come around to the side of park advocates and park users in California by proposing to fund state parks, instead of cutting them as he’s proposed in the last two budget cycles,” she said. “But pegging the fiscal future of the state park system to offshore oil drilling sets up an unacceptable tradeoff between coastal protection and park preservation, and attempts to provide a band-aid for our state park system yet again. Band-aids are not what’s needed; what’s needed for state parks is a reliable, sustainable funding source, and CSPF and our partners are working toward that in the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010.”

That’s a proposed ballot measure which would create an $18-per-vehicle surcharge to raise the $130 million per year needed to support the state park system; all day-use access would become free of charge. Proponents must gather valid signatures from at least 433,971 registered voters by May 28 in order to put the measure on November’s ballot.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.