- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, a millionaire former oilman, says he opposes drilling for oil off the California coast despite the Bush administration's refusal last week to stop the drilling.
The administration on Friday rejected Democratic Gov. Gray Davis' request that the federal government buy 36 undeveloped leases off the California coast to prevent drilling there.
The next day, Mr. Simon announced for the first time that he is "against any drilling of the undeveloped leases, and I'm in favor of the buyout of those leases."
Mr. Simon said he was not criticizing the Republican president whose support he needs in his attempt to unseat Mr. Davis. Instead, Mr. Simon blamed his opponent for failing to try to negotiate a compromise with the White House.
"All parties must get in a room and hammer out a deal," Mr. Simon told a meeting of the Associated Press Television-Radio Association on Saturday.
Oil exploration off California's coast has been a contentious issue since 1969, when an oil spill soiled the Santa Barbara coast. The current argument is about allowing new oil drilling off San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
California took the federal government to court to block attempts to build new oil platforms. A judge agreed with the state a year ago, and a hearing on the Bush administration's appeal was set for today.
Republicans say dozens of new wells have been drilled in the past decade, and the Davis administration has done nothing to stop them. The argument mirrors that made by Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton in her letter rejecting the governor's plea to extend protections against offshore drilling.
Mr. Simon also said he supported retiring existing drilling operations after the oil was tapped, which could take five to 15 years. The former vice president at Paramount Oil has repeatedly said he opposes additional drilling off California but had not spoken out about the existing leases until now.
Financial-disclosure documents show Mr. Simon has tens of thousands of dollars invested in companies with direct interests in the 36 offshore leases at issue in the federal drilling case. However, Mr. Simon's campaign said the investments are not connected to actual drilling.
The candidate's history, closely tied to the oil industry, has spurred green groups to closely monitor his stance on drilling although it does tend to belie the assumption that a candidate's stances on public issues follow his private interests.
"To have someone heavily invested in the oil industry overseeing California's coast is a little scary," said Carl Zichella, regional director of the Sierra Club. "If he waffles [on offshore drilling] at all, it will be to his political detriment."


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