skip to Main Content
Refugio Oil Spill Inspires Action Toward A Post-oil Era

CEC Board Emeritus Paul Relis, who helped start the grassroots environmental movement with the Community Environmental Council after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, spoke out in the aftermath of the massive Refugio Oil Spill, caused by a ruptured underground line owned by Plains All American Pipeline.

“People have been asking me how the Refugio Oil Spill compares to the 1969 Santa Barbara spill. Really, any spill of this magnitude is a tragedy, and the location on the Gaviota Coast could not be worse.

But one major difference is that 45 years ago, we had no idea how to break our addiction to oil. Now we do. Now we have both the policy tools and the technology to make this transition. Those are two powerful drivers.

Listen, I’ve had front-line experience working in – and with — California government for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen the dynamics or commitment that I’m seeing today to make renewable energy such a core part of the state’s future – it’s kind of breathtaking. California is without question a global leader when it comes to renewable energy, and state energy policies are moving us even further in that direction. Remember, the Governor announced in January that he is directing the state to reduce petroleum demand by 50% by 2030. That’s huge.

What was a pipe dream for us in 1969 – a real alternative to our dependence on oil — is now within reach. We are at a pivotal moment in history, and the Refugio Oil Spill is a grim reminder of the necessity of moving renewable energy to the forefront. This could be the final catalyst to motivate the Santa Barbara citizenry to tap its environmental legacy and move away from oil now. With opportunities like Community Choice Energy, the Santa Barbara region could be demanding that 100% of our electricity come from wind and solar. How amazing would that be? And with electric vehicles changing the transportation sector, I can now envision us entering a post-oil era.”

That’s the message I want the next generations to hear. Yes, it’s maddening that we are still repeating the same lessons of 45 years ago. But now we actually have a road out. I say we take it.”

To learn more about the 1969 oil spill that sparked the national environmental movement, including the creation of CEC, download this chapter from Paul’s recent publication, Out of the Wasteland: Stories from the Environmental Frontier.

You can also find out more about the history of CEC here.

Paul Relis

Paul Relis was a student at UC Santa Barbara when on January 28, 1969 a massive oil spill off of Santa Barbara's coastline helped trigger the modern environmental movement. At 23 he became founding Executive Director of the Community Environmental Council, where for 20 years he and the Council helped shape Santa Barbara’s future by pioneering recycling, urban gardening, solar energy, and green design and building. He went on to serve on the California Integrated Waste Management Board in Sacramento, California, implementing California’s nation-leading recycling program.

Today Paul is a Board Emeritus of the CEC and is engaged in the development of one of the largest facilities in North America to convert municipal organic waste to a carbon-negative fuel to power heavy duty engines, a landmark effort to end our dependence on fossil fuels. His recent biography Out of the Wasteland: Stories from the Environmental Frontier details the evolution of the environmental movement in his 40+ year career. Visit for more information.
Paul Relis

Latest posts by Paul Relis (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top