50 Years after the Santa Barbara Oil Spill, Leviathan Is Slick as Ever

Fifty years ago, on January 28, 1969, an oil blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, spilled an estimated three million gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. The oil slick, 35 miles long, killed thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals. Reporters called it the spill that launched the green revolution, and the response is still worthy of note.

An environmentalist named Peter Douglas took note of the spill and co-wrote Proposition 20, a 1972 ballot measure to create a temporary state commission to deal with the coast. That done, Douglas authored the Coastal Act of 1976, which made the Commission permanent. The next year, Douglas became deputy director and in 1985 executive director of the commission he conceived. With this regulatory zealot at the helm, the unelected Commission trumped the elected city and county governments on the coast and rode roughshod over the property rights of coastal residents who were not responsible for the oil spill.

No trace of the spill remains, but fifty years later the Coastal Commission is extending its power, levying fines directly, and still overriding elected governments. It was a classic example of leviathan expanding through crisis, and a temporary agency becoming permanent. Oil continues to seep naturally from the ocean floor, but the Commission is powerless to stop it.

Meanwhile, a blast of arctic air has temperatures plunging across the Midwest. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, the wind chill may approach -50 degrees, and across the Great Lakes, according to forecasters, “numerous temperature records will be threatened.” This happens almost every winter, but climate alarmists are not eager to harmonize the record low temperatures with global warming theory.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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