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May 27th
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Rep. Sam Farr

SamFarrNewHow has public opinion and state and national plans for offshore oil drilling been affected by the BP oil spill?
A poll came out on May 6 that I thought had some very interesting numbers. Among the results, 20 percent of respondents said they’d drive less, attributing their decision directly to the oil spill in the Gulf [of Mexico].

There’s no way to tell if those numbers will hold up, though I suspect the longer the spill goes on and the worse the damage, the more likely they’ll hold true.

But when we look back at the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, or further back to the 1969 spill off Santa Barbara’s coast, how much did the country really change because of those accidents?

I think we need to keep that bigger picture in mind as we move forward. Our country is addicted to oil. We’re addicted to gas, and we’re addicted to driving. And like many addictions, nothing much will happen without outside pressure.

Memories fade.

I think that means as anti-drilling advocates and policymakers try to make changes, to reform the system, we need to do it while it’s forefront in the public mind.

My colleague, Congressman John Garamendi from Walnut Creek, recently introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act. This bill would permanently prohibit offshore drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington.

The Santa Barbara spill led to the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the declaration of the first Earth Day. We need to learn from that lesson. And we need to learn from the Gulf spill. And we need to remember them.

Offshore drilling is a high-risk proposition for limited gain.

California coastal counties provide 12.3 million jobs and $1.6 trillion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. For the entire West Coast, we’re talking 15 million jobs and $1.9 trillion toward our GDP. We have to ensure those economies are safeguarded.

Congress must recognize the enormous importance of the ocean and our coastal areas and help preserve these natural resources so future generations can benefit from the economic activities that depend on them.

You recently announced an upcoming meeting on the issue of blood donation by gay men. Can you expand on that?

Currently the Food and Drug Administration has a policy banning blood donation by any man who has had sex with another man even one time since 1977. The FDA calls it a “permanent deferral.” I call it discrimination.

I say discrimination because this ban continues to be upheld despite two decades of scientific advances in blood testing. Science has advanced, but our policies haven’t kept pace.

Despite the continued ban, I’m happy to report that we’re at least seeing some movement from federal regulators.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a meeting of its Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability for mid-June to review the ban.

It took a couple years, but this workshop is the first of what I hope will be several in response to language I wrote for the fiscal year 2009 Appropriations bill, the legislation that funds FDA.

In that bill, I called for the FDA “to conduct workshops and engage in other forms of communication with federal agencies, organizations involved in blood collection and others, to ensure that those organizations and the public understand the latest scientific information available on blood safety issues.”

The advisory committee, known as the ACBSA, will hear presentations and engage in deliberations on the donation ban. Members will discuss factors to consider regarding a possible policy change, whether current scientific information would support a policy change, studies necessary to implement a change and whether additional safety measures would be needed to assure blood safety if the ban is lifted.

I’ve been concerned about the lifetime blood donor ban since a high school student in Santa Cruz brought the issue to my attention. It has also been raised as an issue at UC Santa Cruz.

The FDA absolutely must continue to emphasize a safe, clean blood supply. But it should do so in a way that bases its “deferrals” on behavioral risk and not just sexual orientation.

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