Clean-up efforts underway in Newport Beach on October 5, where oil washed up on the sand and covered animals. Credit: Harley Rouda for Congress

As a resident of Orange County’s coast, I’ve seen the consequences of the oil spill first hand. Oil is washing up on our shores, animals are dying and covered in oil – with grave consequences for our economy and the small businesses that rely on our beaches. 

As a businessman, I think about these challenges in terms of numbers, and their impact on jobs. So here are a few: California is home to more than 800 miles of coastline, and our coastal economies annually generate hundreds of billions of dollars in wages nationally and nearly $2 trillion in GDP. This disaster puts at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in GDP that relies on healthy ocean ecosystems and a clean marine environment. 

Despite California’s reputation as a global climate leader, the reality is this will unlikely be the last incident. We are home to 27 oil rigs and man-made islands on our coast, and attached to those rigs are 7,000 well heads and thousands of miles of pipeline that face inspections just once a year. The pipeline itself that caused the oil spill is 41 years old. 

This environmental crisis is a wake-up call that we are living with outdated infrastructure and energy sources. In our district, the vast majority of voters across party lines want a stop to offshore drilling to protect our environment and wildlife. They deserve to have elected leaders who share their viewpoints and will be their champions. 

As our district continues to grapple with the oil spill, local leaders came together to take action and call for an end to offshore drilling. However, Rep. Michelle Steel fell flat and chose absence over action

While oil leaked into our coast, Steel dodged the question repeatedly of her position on offshore drilling. She claims her focus is on clean-up efforts, but just a couple of weeks before the oil spill, Steel voted against a resolution that would continue billions of dollars for disaster relief funding, making her comments hypocritical at best. 

Why is Steel standing with Big Oil and against the wishes of the vast majority of her constituents? Follow the money. Steel is trying to hide the fact she has taken tens of thousands of dollars from major oil and gas PACs throughout her history as a career politician. She has also made up to $233,000 from stock in those oil companies, resulting in her voting with oil companies in Congress. So it’s no surprise that she’s been unwilling to join dozens of Republican and Democratic local elected officials here in Orange County and call for an end to offshore oil drilling. She’s simply choosing her Big Oil donors over her constituents.

This isn’t rocket science – this is common sense. I’ve been consistent about my opposition to offshore drilling since before coming into Congress. In Congress, I championed policies to end future oil and gas drilling through my amendments to the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, which would prohibit any future leases for oil and gas drilling off our nation’s coasts. In particular, the amendments require the Department of Commerce to complete an economic impact study of potential damage related to offshore drilling and make public inspections and payments into the Ocean Energy Safety Fund

At the end of the day, this shouldn’t be political. In a time of mass polarization, I’m proud to have seen an incredible coalition of Republicans and Democrats stand up in opposition to offshore oil drilling on California’s coast.  It shouldn’t have to take a catastrophic oil spill to act on what’s best for our communities, our environment, and our economy. Our leadership must learn from this and work with energy companies to make a transition to clean, renewable energy. 

It’s only a matter of time another oil spill hurts our communities. If we continue down this road without addressing the source of these disasters, we will find ourselves right back here again. 

Businessman and Former Representative Harley Rouda surveyed the site of the oil spill on October 4, two days after the oil spill was initially reported. Credit: Harley Rouda for Congress

Harley Rouda served California’s 48th district in Congress from 2019-2021. In 2018, Harley defeated the 30-year incumbent Dana Rohrabacher. During his time in Congress, he embraced common sense and values to tackle climate change, address deteriorating infrastructure, confront homelessness, and protect Social Security and Medicare.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please email

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.