Sunday, June 17 , 2018, 7:34 pm | Mostly Cloudy 63º


Lee Heller Named 2016 Santa Barbara Cox Conserves Hero

Longtime environmental and animal welfare activist Lee Heller, Ph.D., has been named Santa Barbara’s Cox Conserves Hero for 2016 by Cox Communications and The Trust for Public Land, in recognition of her many years of work creating, preserving and enhancing shared outdoor spaces.

Heller served on the board of directors of the Environmental Defense Center from 2011-15 and as board president in 2015.

Representing Santa Barbara, Heller will be competing for the overall title of California’s Cox Conserves Hero 2016 with two other finalists from Orange County and San Diego.

Each finalist receives a $5,000 donation for the environmental nonprofit of their choice. The finalists will be competing for an additional $5,000 — bringing the total award to $10,000 for the winner’s chosen nonprofit.

The Environmental Defense Center is Heller’s charity of choice. The winner will be chosen through an online public vote at Voting ends June 10.

Heller was nominated by California State Assemblymember Das Williams, who explained that “she is an integral part of making sure that great organizations like the Environmental Defense Center are able to stand up for our community and the environment.”

A long-time advocate for preservation of open space and for strict regulation of oil and gas development, Heller took the lead in efforts to cap leaking and improperly abandoned wells at Summerland Beach, organizing a coalition of concerned stakeholders to address the issue. 

Of the most serious of the leaking oil wells, the Becker Wellhead, which can be spotted spouting oil at extreme low tides, Heller says, “it’s ruining our beach, it’s poisoning our wildlife and I’m fighting hard to clean it up.”

Thanks to her advocacy, the State Lands Commission is expected to properly “reabandon” the Becker Wellhead, located below Lookout Park.

“I am honored to have been named a Cox Conserves Hero and thrilled to think that the Environmental Defense Center will receive $5,000 as a result, and possibly $10,000,” Heller said. “Born out of the disaster that was the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, EDC has been fighting hard to keep the Central Coast clean, green and beautiful — defending open spaces from overdevelopment, pursuing corporate polluters and holding government agencies’ feet to the fire in enforcing state and federal laws.

“Whether it’s holding Plains All American accountable for negligent management of the ruptured pipeline, or helping to keep the Gaviota coast from turning into an Orange County subdivision, EDC is out in front, working to protect and preserve our extraordinary region,” Heller said.
“It is hard to imagine a more deserving nominee that Lee Heller” said Owen Bailey, executive director with the Environmental Defense Center. “Lee is famous across our region for her tireless work, passion and dedication to animals and the environment. She is a powerful force and our community is made so much stronger through her advocacy.”

In California, the Cox Conserves Heroes program has honored nearly 70 environmental volunteers and donated nearly $250,000 to their local nonprofits of choice.

Betsy Weber is the communications director at Environmental Defense Center.

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