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Citing BP oil spill, Schwarzenegger drops offshore drilling plan

Citing the BP oil spill, Schwarzenegger said Monday he could no longer back a California offshore drilling initiative. He also vetoed a bill that sought to ban smoking at state parks and beaches.

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“This was born of due caution considering the value of California’s coast both economically and aesthetically,” says Wade Crowfoot, West Coast political director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “Schwarzenegger showed compelling leadership in this important time of transition to clean energy," he said. "California has taken the lead in this and we salute him.”

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Mr. Crowfoot says Schwarzenegger’s decision is a recognition of the fact that technology has not yet arrived to make oil drilling safe, and that preparedness for spills is also unacceptable.

“This Gulf disaster really shows us we need to wean ourselves off the addiction to oil, and the state of California is at the forefront of finding clean alternatives,” says Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club, California. “This will help us to kick the oil habit, eventually.”

Schwarzenegger's move came the same day as he vetoed a bill that would have banned smoking at state parks and beaches. Supporters of the bill said it would keep thousands of toxic cigarette butts from ending up on beaches. But that dichotomy doesn't phase political observers.

“I don’t think there is anything inherently contradictory about dropping an offshore drilling project and vetoing a ban on smoking in state parks and beaches,” says Jessica Levinson, political director for the Center for Governmental Studies. “While he may not be the most conservative official in the world, Schwarzenegger is still a Republican, and his decision reflects his opinion that the state government should have a limited role in the lives of the state’s residents.”

The two decisions show a new ease and confidence in Schwarzenegger, others say.

"These decisions are a welcome illustration of a politician who isn’t running for office and is therefore making his own judgments based on his own values,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University. “He can look at the oil spill and say, ‘I made a mistake and don’t want California to look like that.' While at the same time look at the smoking ban and say, ‘This is antithetical to government intrusion into people’s lives.’ "

Counters Mr. Pitney: “If we had just had a gasoline shortage and a fire in a state park, these decisions would have come out the other way.”

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

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