Nov. 29, 2012 Coastal Commission Rejects PG&E Seismic Testing Plan

Written By: Dan Bacher, November 30, 2012

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday, November 14 to reject Pacific Gas and Electric Company's widely-contested plan to conduct seismic testing off the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. They found the plan inconsistent with the California Coastal Act.  

In a massive display of unity, hundreds of fishermen, Tribal members and environmentalists showed up to oppose the plan at the standing room-only meeting in Santa Monica. Only one person - Mark Krause, the   PG&E spokesman - spoke in favor of the plan.  

Plan opponents wore colorful T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with slogans such as “Seismic Matters” and “Stop the Diablo Canyon Seismic Testing,” and held up an array of signs and banners with messages ranging from "Make Love Not Noise" to the American Indian Movement (AIM) banner, "We are the First Americans of this Great Land." 

One speaker after another blasted PG&E’s plan during the public comment period, including a united contingent of Indian Tribes and organizations.

"The Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, a sovereign nation, calls on all peoples to protect our marine relatives and all of our sacred sites on land or in the water, registered or not," Crystal Baker, Board Member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, told the Commission. "PG&E's own Environmental Impact Report acknowledges that the proposed testing will have 'significant and unavoidable impacts' to marine life on our Indigenous Sacred Sites and the Public Safety."  

“We ask all Peoples of all Nations to let your voice be heard before this act of ecocide moves forward and stand with us now to stop seismic testing,” she urged.

The project, proposed under the auspices of gathering information for PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, would have involved towing powerful air cannons off the Central Coast, shooting deafening underwater explosions (upwards of 250 decibels) every 13 seconds for 17 straight days.   

The high energy testing would have resulted in potential injury and death to thousands of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, along with Chinook salmon, steelhead, rockfish, halibut and a host of fish species, according to those who testified. They agreed with the Coastal Commission staff, who urged the Commission to reject the permit, since the danger posed to marine life would be great while the information to be obtained by the survey could be obtained by analyzing existing data.  

In their report, the Commission staff emphasized the impacts the testing would have upon the Morro Bay area harbor porpoise, “whose range is limited to the general project area, and the entire population of which is likely to be subject to behavioral harassment.” This genetically distinct harbor species is estimated to number around 1600 individuals.

The testing would have impacted marine life in the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve and other marine protected areas that went into effect in September 2007 under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.  

After hearing public comment, the Commissioners explained their reasons for opposing the approval of the permit. 

"These tests are not going to do us any good in terms of protecting the public welfare - and the environmental impacts of this project were understated," said commissioner Jana Zimmer.  

Some Commissioners voiced their support for closing Diablo Canyon and other nuclear power plants. "I personally believe the state is asking the wrong question," said Mary Shallenberger, Commission Chair. "We should be asking how to get nuclear plants off our coast."  

Likewise, Commissioner Martha McClure stated, "It's time to close these plants. It's time to convert them over to solar energy."  

Representatives of Indian Tribes, environmental organizations and fishing groups celebrated the Commission decision.  

Fred Collins, Administrator for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, praised the decision. "Mother Earth, our ancestors, the animal nation and the animal nation were all heard with one resounding voice. We must care for all things," said Collins.  

Joey Racano of the Stop Diablo Canyon Seismic Testing Facebook Community stated, "The Commission thoughtfully made the right choice that they can't do it here. In case PG&E comes back again, we will be watching."  

“We are pleased the California Coastal Commission strongly upheld the Coastal Act by denying this terribly harmful project,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, Surfrider Foundation’s California Policy Manager. “The large public attendance today demonstrates just how citizens can greatly influence decision makers. Surfrider Foundation believes taxpayers, ocean users and marine life are better off because of this decision.”  

The Surfrider Foundation, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Stop Diablo Canyon Testing Facebook Community and other environmental and fishing groups maintain that similar surveying information already exists and the project would unnecessarily put marine life at risk.  

"We thank the Coastal Commissioners and staff for taking a stand in defense protection our coastal recreation and marine life,” says Dr. Chad Nelsen, Surfrider Foundation’s Environmental Director. “While everyone wants a safe nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, this project was not the right way to get there. The threats from seismic testing to marine wildlife and ocean recreation are so severe it should be considered the last resort, not business as usual."  

Marcus Lopez, Co-Chair of the Barbareno Chumash Council of Santa Barbara, said, "Congratulations to all who participated to defend our relatives! What we did do is to be a good ancestor in that we defended the voiceless in our people's terms. We were the voice of the voiceless." (http://www.barbarenochumashcouncil.com)  

"We had a United Front consisting of Northern Chumash Council, Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, the Wishtoyo Foundation, the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Development and the American Indian Movement of Southern California. It also included the many local and not so local individuals that gave their support and time to let others of the non-Indian and Indian Peoples understand this all important topic. This issue is not “dead;” our vigilance is vital."  

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations, said, "We're pleased and hope this is the last we see of PG&E's plan. The good news is that this it has drawn to public attention the seismic surveys, which are used extensively by the offshore oil industry."  

"The other good news is that many of the proponents of the marine protected areas created under the MLPA Initiative are starting to wake up to the fact that fishing is just one small part of protecting the ocean. A lot of other things need to be considered, including pollution, offshore oil drilling, noise impacts and future development such as offshore aquaculture and deep sea mining," he concluded.  

The MLPA Initiative, overseen by a big oil lobbyist, marina corporation executive, coastal real estate developer and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interest, fails to protect the ocean from oil drilling and spills, seismic and military testing, pollution, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

Grassroots environmentalists and fishermen are hoping that the Coastal Commission decision serves as a precedent under which human impacts other than fishing and gathering will be prohibited in marine protected areas. 

There is no doubt that the huge outpouring of opposition by a diverse community of Tribal representatives, environmentalists, recreational anglers and commercial fishermen sent a clear and unmistakable message - the people of California will not allow their government to sacrifice whales, dolphins, salmon, halibut, rockfish and other marine life at the "altar" of energy industry greed.

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