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Sen. Barbara Boxer Visits Site of Refugio Oil Spill

California Democrat, joined by Rep. Lois Capps, reiterates questions about crude oil pipeline that burst and attacks GOP for undermining safety efforts

With Rep. Lois Capps by her side, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer speaks to reporters Tuesday at Refugio State Beach during a visit to learn about the effects and clean-up of the May 19 oil spill there.
With Rep. Lois Capps by her side, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer speaks to reporters Tuesday at Refugio State Beach during a visit to learn about the effects and clean-up of the May 19 oil spill there. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer paid a visit to Refugio State Beach on Tuesday to get a first-hand look at ground zero of the May oil spill that coated much of the Gaviota Coast in crude.

The four-term California Democrat was joined by Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, for a briefing on the months-long clean-up effort from local, state and federal officials.

The pair also met with reporters during a brief press conference, with the scenic Refugio Cove serving as a backdrop.

On May 19, up to 142,000 gallons of oil spewed from a break in an underground crude oil pipeline belonging to Plains All American Pipeline, with an estimated 21,000 gallons reaching the shoreline and the sea.

The spill — from the company's 24-inch Line 901, which parallels Highway 101 on the inland side of the roadway — affected nearly 100 miles of coastline, prompted weeks-long shutdowns of Refugio and El Capitan state beaches, and forced temporary closures of offshore fisheries.

Although Boxer has announced she will retire from the Senate when her current team ends in 2016, her remarks resembled a campaign stump speech, with the Republican Party as her primary target.

Boxer, a longtime foe of oil development along the California coast, called the Refugio spill “an ecological and economic disaster” that demonstrated the dangers of offshore oil drilling.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams discusses the Refugio oil spill clean up with Rep. Lois Capps and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, right, on Tuesday. Click to view larger
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams discusses the Refugio oil spill clean up with Rep. Lois Capps and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, right, on Tuesday. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Boxer and Capps are among federal officials who have pressed Plains officials on questions about their pipeline maintenance and initial response to the spill.

Boxer reiterated those questions Tuesday, saying “we need to hold the company to the highest standards given their safety record.”

She noted that President Barack Obama’s proposed budget would increase funding for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency with oversight responsibility for oil pipelines.

She slammed Republicans in Congress for moving to reduce funding for PHMSA as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Refugio Beach “is a gift from God,” she said, “and must be protected.”

Capps, who also is retiring from Congress when her term ends next year, offered similar comments about the need to beef up oversight of oil pipelines and protect the county’s scenic coastline from the impacts of oil development.

Among those attending Tuesday’s gathering was Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, who is running to replace Capps as the 24th District representative in Congress.

There also were representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard and numerous local, state and federal agencies that have been involved in the oil spill response and clean-up efforts.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Swimmers enjoy a summer day at Refugio State Beach, oblivious to a visit to the park by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who came to get a first-hand look at ground zero of the May 19 oil spill. Click to view larger
Swimmers enjoy a summer day at Refugio State Beach, oblivious to a visit to the park by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who came to get a first-hand look at ground zero of the May 19 oil spill. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)
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