Congresswoman Lois Capps and Senator Barbara Boxer recently authored a letter to President Bush asking him to stop the expansion of oil drilling off the coast of California.

The letter, dated Dec. 12, 2002, refers to a Dec. 2 ruling in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling against 36 undeveloped coastal oil leases. The ruling stated that California has the right to review and reject any federal plans for drilling off the state’s shores. Capps and Boxer’s letter asked the president not to pursue further appeals and to instead work with California and its representatives to terminate the leases off the coast of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties. The Bush administration has not yet responded.

In their letter to President Bush, the congresswoman and senator offer suggestions for resolving the conflict, including swapping the 36 leases for other federal tracts or letting the leases expire. The letter also refers to the solution reached with the state of Florida to a similar issue. In that case, the Bush administration agreed to buy back the leases off Florida’s coast due to environmental concerns.

“It is time to craft a solution to end the controversy over these leases. We are ready and eager to work constructively with you in this regard. In that vein, we respectfully urge you not to appeal the recent court decision…” the letter read in part. “Instead, we encourage you to take a constructive approach and work with us, and the state of California, to find an equitable way to terminate the 36 leases.”

Capps said she felt the letter represented the collective opinion of the majority of Santa Barbara County residents.

“It’s time to end the threat new offshore drilling poses to our environment and economy,” Capps said. “The people on the Central Coast have made it very clear that we don’t want any more drilling. We’re calling on the Bush administration to respect our wishes and terminate these leases once and for all.”

The letter also makes reference to the June 2002 passage of an amendment to stop new offshore oil drilling as part of an Interior Dept. Appropriations bill and states that the Senate subsequently passed language supporting the House bill.

The conflict began in late 2000, when the state sued the federal government over the leases. When Oakland District Judge Claudia Wilkins ruled in June 2001 that the federal government had violated National Environmental Policy Act regulations, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced the federal government’s intent to appeal. The Dec. 2 decision merely reaffirmed Wilkins’ earlier ruling.

The Bush administration has 90 days to determine whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A successful appeal to a higher court could reverse the current ruling and open the possibility of new offshore drilling.

Neither the White House nor Senator Boxer’s press offices could be reached for comment.