Miscellaneous current reports of corporate overreach

Submitted: Jan 20, 2016
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 For Immediate Release, April 29, 2015

Contact: 

Adam Keats, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 304, akeats@biologicaldiversity.org
Kim Floyd, Sierra Club, (760) 680-9479
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 881-6081

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2015/cadiz-water-project-05-01-2015.html

Appeal Filed Against Mojave Desert's Cadiz Water Project

Mojave Groundwater Mining Project Threatens Wildlife, Fuels Sprawl

SANTA ANA, Calif.— Conservation groups filed their opening briefs this week challenging the Cadiz Water Project, a private groundwater-mining proposal that would siphon 16 million of gallons of water per year for up to 50 years from the Mojave Desert to feed urban sprawl in Southern California’s Orange County.

Widely opposed by San Bernardino County residents, state and federal public agencies, and local businesses, Cadiz, Inc.’s ill-conceived plan threatens to dry up life-sustaining desert springs in the Mojave National Preserve, hurting vegetation and key habitat for iconic desert wildlife species, including desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, Mojave fringe-toed lizards and kit foxes.

“Let’s call this what it is: a water-privatization scheme that will ship San Bernardino’s water resources, essential to the health of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, off to fuel suburban sprawl in Orange County,” said Adam Keats, head of the Center for Biological Diversity’s California Water Law Project. “If we learn anything from this drought it’s that we have to live within our water means, and unsustainable, harebrained projects like this need to stop.”

Cadiz has repeatedly tried and failed to mine this aquifer over the past two decades but was rejected each time by larger water districts in Southern California. Former government hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey have disagreed with the Cadiz consultants on the recharge rate of the aquifer and identified the project as unsustainable over the long term. Cadiz also plans to build a 43-mile pipeline that would transport the mined water to buyers, and its applications for right-of-way permits are being carefully scrutinized by the Bureau of Land Management. 

“Our 145,000 California members feel strongly that the desert and our national parks must be protected from wanton, profit-driven destruction that will very likely result from this proposal,” said Kim Floyd, conservation chair for the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We are hopeful that we will be successful in protecting the publicʼs water resources at this stage in the case.”

“The so-called Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project is none of those things. It’s just a scheme to destroy the aquifer so a single corporation can make more money, under the guise of securing water supplies for wealthy residents of Orange County. The supposed annual recharge rate has been enormously inflated in order to sell the project,” said Drew Feldmann, conservation chair of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.

Although the project’s environmental review should have been conducted by San Bernardino County, it was actually done by a water district in Orange County about 200 miles away, disregarding San Bernardino County’s groundwater protection laws.

“Santa Margarita Water District is the wrong agency, in the wrong county, serving the wrong interests for reviewing the environmental impacts of a project that will drain the groundwater from the eastern Mojave in San Bernardino County,” said Keats. “Throughout the approval process, there was a disregard for accountability to San Bernardino residents, protection of desert resources and compliance with local laws.”

The groups challenging the Cadiz Water Project on appeal are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. Separate appeals were filed by the National Parks Conservation Association and a local salt-mining operation that would be threatened by the water-mining scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1-18-16

New Republic  

One Man’s Plan to Capitalize on California’s Drought

Scott Slater wants to pump billions of gallons to LA and other drought-hit cities—and make $2.4 billion in the process.

Rupert Neate

https://newrepublic.com/article/127870/one-mans-plan-capitalize-californias-drought

 

 

 

Scott Slater has a plan. It is not a popular plan, but he wants to pump 814 billion gallons of water from under the Mojave desert to Los Angeles and other drought-stricken communities in southern California, and make more than $2 billion (£1.3 billion) doing so.

“Yes, it’s quite a lot of money,” Slater, the 57-year-old chief executive of Cadiz Inc, says as he stands in front of a scale model of the project in the foyer of the company’s office on the 28th and top floor of a LA city center office block.

“It’s worth whatever the community who wants the water is willing to pay for it to meet their demands.

”Cadiz owns water rights associated with 45,000 acres of land along route 66, about 75 miles northeast of Palm Springs. The holdings were built up by the company’s founder, Keith Brackpool, a British horseracing impresario, who came to the US after admitting having breached financial disclosure laws in the UK in the 1980s.The company’s biggest investors, some of whom have been waiting for Cadiz’s water to flow to LA for more than a decade, include the New York hedge fund Water Asset Management and Crispin Odey’s Odey Asset Management in London.

Slater has already got contracts to sell the water for $960 an acre ft (the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land in a foot of water). That works out at $2.4 billion over the 50 years of the company’s water extraction deal with San Bernardino County. His problem, however, is convincing politicians, regulators and the public that pumping water 200 miles from the desert aquifer to LA is a good idea. 

“People see this development as a private sector initiative and they have a very visceral, negative reaction to that,” Slater says.

The price of water in California has been steadily rising, as has demand from a growing population, while the state struggles with four years of severe drought. Slater says water is worth as much as $2,200 an acre ft in San Diego, where it is in shortest supply. A decade ago the price was less than $100, he says.

Drought is good news for Slater and Cadiz. “In a condition of scarcity, all water, all water that’s reliable, becomes more valuable,” Slater says. The company’s share price spikes every time a drought emergency is declared, but the shares have still lost more than 80% of their value since 2007 because of repeated regulatory setbacks in Cadiz’s quest to tap the eastern Mojave aquifer.

In the latest setback, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ruled that the company cannot lay a 43-mile pipeline alongside an existing railway line to transport water to the Colorado river aqueduct and on to the cities of the Californian coast. It means Cadiz will have to seek federal approval for the pipeline, which will trigger a long and expensive environmental impact review.

Slater, who was a water rights lawyer for 30 years before taking over as Cadiz’s CEO in 2013, is not giving up on the railway pipeline without a fight. He accuses the BLM of misinterpreting 19th century railway law, and says: “If we can’t get them to follow the law, we’ll do what we need to do, pursue administrative and judicial remedies.”

He says the logistics of the project are pretty simple, and that the company could start pumping enough water to supply 400,000 people by 2017. “I know it will work,” he says, dressed in an purple open-collar Burberry shirt and jeans.

Cadiz has plenty of enemies—environmentalists, local ranchers, protectionists and Native American tribes—but none more fierce than Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“I remain concerned the Cadiz project could damage the Mojave desert beyond repair and believe the BLM decision to deny the right of way is the right one,” said the veteran Democrat, who in 1994 help create the Mojave national preserve. She believes it could be threatened by the Cadiz project

 “The bottom line is that right now we need more responsibility in how we use our water, not less.”

David Lamfrom, the director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s California desert and wildlife program, said he believed that “full examination of the Cadiz Inc proposal will once again prove that it is unsustainable and that it will harm our desert national parks, communities, businesses, and wildlife”.

Slater says his plan is environmentally “benign” and will conserve water that at present is lost from the aquifer via evaporation from dry lakes. He says the 50,000 acre ft of water a year the company would extract would “otherwise evaporate, which is far more of a waste than people drinking it”.

“None of the water we are going to take fell on the earth in the last 100 years. This is millennial water. It takes centuries from the water falling at the upper end of our watershed and then follow a migratory path to down where we are,” he says.

“Our project hypothesis is that we construct a well field here,” he says, pointing at a point on the scale model. “And intercept the water as it goes down the hill before it can become hypersaline and evaporates. We are substituting our wells for the natural evaporation process that sends the water into the atmosphere and wastes it.”

In addition to environmental concerns, others object to a private company being able to make billions from water. Slater says they do not understand the law, which in California states no entity can own water but they can buy, sell and trade the right to use it.

“There are people that think water is a human right and confuse privatisation with the right to get water under economic terms,” Slater says.

“This is the United States of America and we have private property here. This is not a communist country. We own land, and land use is an attribute of property ownership,” he says. “Food doesn’t stay on the farm it was grown on. We share our food, we share our energy, we share our oil and gas. I can sell land to anybody. Why would I treat water any differently?

“The use of water is owned. It’s not like someone is calling up God and saying ‘make it rain’. It is sold as a right, just like you sell a house.”

 

 

1-19-16

Truthdig

Hillary Blames Bernie for an Old Clintonite Hustle, and That’s a Rotten Shame

 Robert Scheer

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/hillary_blames_bernie_for_an_old_clintonite_hustle_rotten_shame_20160119

The Clintons have no shame, that much you can count on. That stupefying arrogance was on full display in the most recent presidential campaign debate when Hillary Clinton countered Bernie Sanders’ charge that she was compromised by her close ties to Goldman Sachs and other rapacious Wall Street interests with the retort: “Sen. Sanders, you’re the only one on this stage that voted to deregulate the financial markets in 2000, ... to make the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission no longer able to regulate swaps and derivatives, which were one of the main causes of the collapse in ’08.” 

Hillary knows that the disastrous legislation, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA), had nothing to do with Sanders and everything to do with then-President Bill Clinton, who devoted his presidency to sucking up to Wall Street. Clinton signed this bill into law as a lame-duck president, ensuring his wife would have massive Wall Street contributions for her Senate run. 

Sanders, like the rest of Congress, was blackmailed into voting for the bill because it was tucked into omnibus legislation needed to keep the government operating. Only libertarian Ron Paul and three other House members had the guts to cast a nay vote. The measure freeing Wall Street firms from regulation was inserted at the last moment in a deal between President Clinton and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who had failed in an earlier attempt to get the measure enacted. Clinton signed it into law a month before leaving office. 

Sanders soon figured out that he and almost all other Congress members had been tricked into providing a blank check for the marketing of bogus collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps made legal by the legislation, of which a key author was Gary Gensler, the former Goldman Sachs partner recruited by Clinton to be undersecretary of the treasury.<!--[if gte vml 1]>

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Eight years later, when President Obama nominated Gensler to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, it was Sanders who put a temporary hold on the nomination, stating: “Mr. Gensler worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and [former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman] Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of AIG and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history.”

Today, Gensler is the top economic adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. And the CFMA—key legislation that was “one of the main causes of the collapse in ’08,” enabling the great recession—is an enormous embarrassment that her husband on occasion reluctantly has conceded was drafted by his top aides and signed into law by him with great enthusiasm.

In an awkward power-couple footnote, Greenspan, chief prophet of radical banking deregulation, is married to NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell, one of the two debate moderators Sunday night, who pointedly challenged Sanders with questions about his integrity in his call for reform of the economy. But not as awkward as Hillary having been prepped by her debate adviser Gensler to attack Sanders for his vote for legislation that Gensler wrote when working for her husband.

Who are these Clintonites who now have the temerity to blame Sanders for the economic hustles they authorized?

Gensler in 1999 testified before Congress in support of the total deregulation of toxic derivatives: “OTC derivatives directly and indirectly support higher investment and growth in living standards in the United States and around the world.” As for the credit default swaps, the phony insurance packages that brought AIG to its knees and almost destroyed the world economy, Gensler testified that they should be exempted by his proposed legislation from regulation existing under the Commodity Exchange Act: “swap transactions should not be regulated under the CEA.” Had they been, the financial crisis could have been avoided.

Along with Gensler, Robert Rubin, who was Clinton’s treasury secretary and a former Goldman Sachs chairman, and Lawrence Summers, a Rubin aide who succeeded the treasury secretary before the bill was passed, engineered this legislation, which became law and which Hillary Clinton now has the effrontery to blame on Bernie Sanders. 

The same Rubin-Summers wrecking crew had also destroyed the sensible restraints on Wall Street greed, implemented as the Glass-Steagall Act by the administration of Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. Hillary Clinton defends the repeal of Glass-Steagall’s separation of commercial and investment banking, while Sanders wants it reinstated.

That repeal, as well as preventing any regulation of the toxic mortgage packages and swaps that still hobble the world economy and wiped out the fortunes of black and brown people with particular severity, is Bill Clinton’s horrid legacy, and it is one that his wife now attempts to blame on Bernie Sanders. Shame.

 

1-19-16

Los Angeles Times

The corporate grab behind the Yosemite Park trademark clash

Michael Hiltzik

http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-the-corporate-grab-yosemite-park-s-trademarks-20160119-column.html

If you're a lover of U.S. national parks in general and Yosemite National Park in particular, you've probably been moved to outrage over reports that a New York corporation has claimed the trademark rights to several names associated with the park.

These include the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village, and conceivably "Yosemite National Park" itself. As a response to a pending lawsuit over the issue, the National Park Service will erase some of the disputed names as of March 1; the Ahwahnee will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Curry Village will be known as Half Dome Village. The park's name will stay the same...for now. 

We're not threatening to keep the names, but we are entitled to fair value.- Dan Jensen of Delaware North

There are two important facts to keep in mind as this dispute unfolds between the government and Delaware North Cos., which operated the hotels and concessions at the park through a subsidiary since 1993 but lost the contract to rival Aramark last year, for a 15-year term starting March 1.

First: Delaware North isn't really claiming to have trademarked "Yosemite National Park" for all purposes. It only claims to own the trademark to the extent it appears on coffee mugs, T-shirts and some other gewgaws sold in gift shops. What's really at stake isn't the ownership of the names and trademarks themselves, but how much they're worth and how much Delaware North should be paid for them in the contract handoff.

"We're not threatening to keep the names," says Dan Jensen, a longtime park executive whose tenure at Yosemite lasted 23 years and who is now a consultant to Delaware North, "but we are entitled to fair value."

He also says that the National Park Service had no cause to start changing the disputed names, an act that itself is trampling over park traditions. Indeed, the firm says it's willing to allow the Park Service free use of all the trademarks at issue until the legal fight is settled. 

Second: The government paints Delaware North as a grasping corporation that's trying to hold up the taxpayers for millions of dollars it doesn't deserve.

The dispute over the names therefore is part of a broader legal fight, though not one that necessarily makes either the company or the government look good.

In its reply to the company's lawsuit, the National Park Service says Delaware North has "apparently embarked on a business model whereby it collects trademarks to the names of iconic property owned by the United States." It cites its application to trademark "Space Shuttle Atlantis" in connection with its concession at the Kennedy Space Center.

According to the federal trademark database, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted that trademark last year, which raises the question: Why is the USPTO so free and easy with trademarks of national assets? 

As the government states, the USPTO initially rejected Delware North's applications to register several trademarks associated with the park, including the park name. Its reasoning was that the public associates those names with the National Park Service, not the company. What the government doesn't say--perhaps out of embarrassment--is that the trademark office eventually approved some of the applications, though typically of name-and-logo combinations, not of the names themselves. 

Here's how the Yosemite conflict happened. 

The story begins with Curry Co., which in one form or another had run facilities at the park since 1899. By 1993, Curry was owned by MCA, which was owned by Matsushita of Japan. Then-Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan declared that a foreign-owned firm couldn't run concessions at a national park. Delaware North, which operates at numerous sports stadiums and other venues across the country, took over the rights at Yosemite by buying Curry Co.'s stock, paying MCA about $61.5 million--about $115 million in today's money--for tangible and intangible assets, including trademarks.

Delaware North says that the original contract never spelled out in detail what it owned or its value. Subsequent federal legislation governing concessions on federal property only served to muddy the waters. It was understood from the inception of the contract that the real property in the park, including the hotel, belonged to the government, and that the intangibles would have to be transferred to any new concessionaire at "fair value."  

There's the rub. There's no detailed list of all the intangible property, and no agreed-on method of determining its fair value. Delaware North says it's all worth $51.2 million, based on an appraisal it commissioned covering 32 trademarks, Internet domain names, and other assets. The government says these assets are worth $3.5 million. 

The government says Delaware North has consistently tried to high-ball its estimate of what it's owed in the property transfer to Aramark. Its $51.2-million estimate was submitted to the government "without any explanation or documentary support," according to the government's reply to the company lawsuit.

The government contends that the firm's appraisal ignores the "unique paradigm of a concession within a national park"--that it's not the trademark that draws visitors and creates value, but the park and its surroundings, which are government property.

This is certainly true. The names "Ahwahnee Hotel," "Curry Village" and "Yosemite National Park" have virtually no value separated from the park itself. Delaware North theoretically could open a hotel just outside the Yosemite boundaries and call it the "Ahwahnee," but that would only devalue the name, not exploit it. 

The issues in this fight are fundamentally simple. First, what's the reasonable value of trademarks, websites, mailing lists and other intellectual property associated with Yosemite National Park? On a guess, it's somewhere between $3.5 million and $51.2 million.

Second, how could the government be dumb enough to allow any confusion to exist about what belongs to the public and what belongs to a concession contractor operating on public land? The careless approach to the national patrimony has led not only to the Yosemite dispute but the Cliven Bundy standoff and the comic opera goings on by the so-called militia at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. If federal administrators won't enforce the public's rights on all these lands, who will? 

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