Law

Extinction no solution to water pollution -- Felix Smith

Submitted: Jul 04, 2007

When one looks seriously at the probable extinction of the Delta Smelt, the only thread in the history is the one most denied in the San Joaquin Valley: the systematic, long-range, politically rigged destruction of Public Trust law and natural resources by agribusiness lords and by the aggressions of water agencies led by Wetlands Water District. The entire violation of public trust exploded in Merced County in 1983 at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, where it was discovered that agricultural drainage piped from the south San Joaquin Valley with its highly concentrated amounts of Selenium, sickened, deformed and killed living beings -- people, livestock, and aquatic and avian species. Through more than 20 years of government propaganda denying it, coverups, harassment of government staff, ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and journalists that have told and continue to tell the truth, the destruction has continued to unfold.

Badlands is honored to publish these remarks sent to us by former US Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, Felix Smith, before a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on July 2 in Vallejo on the Delta. Smith has never stopped doing his duty as a federal wildlife biologist by speaking the uncomfortable, officially denied truth, since at Kesterson he held the first deformed bird in his hands. The best account in book form of what Smith and others went through to reveal this painful truth, describe its origins and predict its consequences, is available in Tom Harris' Death in the Marsh. Other books include Reisner's Cadillac Desert and The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire, by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman. The best reporter and commentator on the subject is Lloyd Carter.

The worst newspaper coverage of the Kesterson disaster was by the Merced Sun-Star, on top of the story but, judging by its archives from the time, running away from it as fast as it could.

Badlands editorial staff
----------------

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power,

Hearing on

“Extinction is Not Sustainable Water Policy: the Bay-Delta Crisis

and

Implications for California Water Management”,

July 2, 2007 at Vallejo, California.

To Chairwoman-Representative Napolitano and other members of this subcommittee.

My name is Felix E. Smith. I appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments. Please include these comments into the record of this hearing.

I held the first deformed migratory bird, an American coot hatchling, found at Kesterson NWR in 1983. At that time I was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist recently assigned to look into the emerging issues involving agricultural drainage and wastewater. That experience impacted my life. Some of my concerns regarding Selenium contamination of the lands and waters and associated resources, uses and values are described in my article, “The Kesterson Effect: Reasonable Use of Water and the Public Trust”, published in the San Joaquin Agricultural Law Review, Volume 6, Number 1 - 1996. I submit this article for the hearing record by this reference.

Water is the environment in which fish and other aquatic resources must carry on all their life processes. Such resources, associated uses and values are inextricably tied to the physical, chemical and biological aspects of that aquatic environment. Healthy and diverse aquatic populations are indicative of good water quality conditions (flow, temperature, oxygen and chemical parameters). Good water quality allows for near optimum use of water as an M & I supply, an irrigation supply and as an environment for fish and other aquatic life. For healthy and sustainable fish populations to exist (also wildlife populations), the total aquatic environment (the water, the bed, the riparian vegetation and associated insect life, the food web) all interact and therefore must be suitable for aquatic life at the individual, population and community levels.

The Federal Clean Water Act, as amended, and the Public Trust embrace affirmatively and positively that the people are to be protected against all unwise and unreasonable uses of Federal and State waters. Uses of water can be considered unreasonable because they pollute; because they offend our sense of aesthetics or natural beauty; because they interfere with the right of the public to enjoy a natural resource of state or national significance; because they threaten in a harmful way to upset the ecological balance of nature, or because to allow this unreasonable use confers a valuable privilege which is inconsistent with protecting the public trust.

Agencies like the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s EPA were established to protect the public interest and quality of the Nation’s lands and waters. Such agencies are not to squander clean air, allow the pollution of our rivers, streams and groundwater, allow the pollution or other degradation of our land leaving a degraded legacy for our grandchildren or allow the pollution of the body’s of our children, our fish and wildlife resources or our food supply. These same agencies should not look like shills for corporate farms or massive water districts (Boswells Farms, Westland Water District).

Any effort at maintaining sustainable water quality, agriculture and wetland ecosystems (fish and wildlife resources) must involve an understanding of the interaction between the soil and the flow of water over, through, and under the soil well beyond the point of application. Preserving soil fertility is critical to sustaining its productivity. Preserving and maintaining water quality is critical to the productivity of water as an ecosystem and as a commodity for domestic and industrial uses. Unlike soil, which can be built up over time, water can’t be built or enhanced. A river can be lost to a farmer; to a species of fish or to fish resources; lost as a place to recreate or as a water supply. It can be diverted, polluted, misused or over appropriated. Aldo Leopold’s Round River makes the principles of ecology clear and vivid, suggesting that nature is a “Round River”, like a stream flowing into itself, going round and round in an unceasing circuit, going through all the soils, the flora and fauna of the earth while supporting many resources, beneficial uses and values. Destroying one part can destroy it all and all its benefits to society.

A use of the lands and waters of a watershed that so degrades the sustainability of a downstream ecosystem or a component of that ecosystem to make it unsuitable for sustaining viable agriculture, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life, or which makes fish unsuitable for human consumption, or which is a hazard to other fish and wildlife, or which degrades ecological, aesthetic, recreational uses, small craft navigation, and scenic values, is inconsistent with public trust protection, the reasonable use of water is therefore a nuisance. When chemicals enter the bodies of children, or enter the domestic or wildlife food supply to toxic levels without our consent, it is a trespass.

Here is an example brought to you in part by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation and the Central Valley Project.

It was known for a long time that the soils of the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley were derived from parent material formed in an old seabed. The California Department of Water Resources Bulletin No. 89, Lower San Joaquin Valley Water Quality Investigation – 1960, discusses concerns about the chemicals and various salts in the soils and drainage from the area. The soils and parent material extend throughout the Westside, south to the end of the Valley. The sodium ion was a major concern along with a variety of sulfates, boron and numerous trace elements. Even at that time drainage was believed to be a serious and emerging problem. Drainage from the Panoche area was highly concentrated from a quality standpoint and “unusable for beneficial purposes” (see pg. 95 of DWR –Bull. No 89). At that time the San Joaquin River was already seriously polluted from agricultural drainage and wastewater.

The observation “that the drainage was highly concentrated from a quality standpoint and unusable for beneficial purposes”, sparked little attention. With the application of vast quantities of Bureau of Reclamation water to the highly saline / seleniferious soils, the need for drainage works quickly become apparent. Surface waters and the San Joaquin River showed additional evidence of pollution.

By 1982 some people, including a few Grassland duck club owners, believed that something was wrong in the northern Grasslands. They had noticed sick and dead birds in 1981 and 82. In 1983 the first deformed young of migratory birds were found on Kesterson NWR by researchers from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Kesterson Reservoir (NWR) was the then terminus of the San Luis Drain. People were disturbed by the pictures of dead and grossly deformed waterfowl and shorebirds obtained from Kesterson Evaporation Ponds that were appearing on the nightly television news at dinnertime. Selenium (Se) in the agricultural drainage accumulated via the food chain to high levels in their tissues resulted in dead adults, dead and deformed young. Several species of fish had elevated Se levels in their tissues.

In September 1984, California’s State Board, in its Agricultural Water Management Guidelines for Water Purveyors, stated, “Failure to take appropriate measures to minimize excess application, excess incidental losses, or degradation of water quality constitutes unreasonable use of water” (Emphasis added).

The State Board followed with its Order WQ 85-1(February 1985). The State Board found that agricultural drainage and wastewater reaching Kesterson Reservoir “is creating and threatening to create conditions of pollution and nuisance” (Emphases added). The Order then warned “If the Bureau closes Kesterson Reservoir and continues to supply irrigation water to Westlands Water District without implementing an adequate disposal option, continued irrigation in the affected area of Westlands Water District could constitute an unreasonable use of water” (Emphasis added).

From 1986 to today (2007), Selenium contamination is sufficient to cause deformities and threaten reproduction of key species within the area of the greater Grasslands, in the San Joaquin River to the Bay-Delta estuary. Deformed migratory birds have been found in every year field investigations were conducted for such evidence. Selenium concentration was also high in eggs that were sampled, which in turn could have lead to deformities. Fish resources continue to show high levels of Se because of a Se -contaminated food chain. Selenium has been found in what is usually called edible tissues and in reproductive organs of birds and fish.

Human health advisories have been issued against consuming Se contaminated edible tissues of fish (bluegill and largemouth bass) and of migratory birds (ducks and coots). Women of childbearing age and children are cautioned against eating such tissues. State Board reports indicate that in the Bay-Delta, surf scoter, greater and lesser scaup and particularly white sturgeon appear to be the most at risk to Se toxicity because they feed on filter feeders (i.e. bivalves). Concentrations Se found in 62 white sturgeon muscle samples and 42 liver samples far exceed tissue thresholds for reproductive effects. Recent findings add the Sacramento splittail to the list of species exhibiting elevated Se levels.

The USGS report (Report) ”Forecasting Selenium Discharges to the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary; Ecological Effects of a Proposed San Luis Drain Extension” by Drs. Samuel N. Luoma and Theresa S. Presser –2000), indicates that the reservoir of Se on the Westside of San Joaquin Valley is sufficient to provide loading at an annual rate of about 42,500 pounds of Se to the Bay-Delta disposal point for 63 to 304 years at the lower range of its projection. This is with the influx of Se from the Coast Range curtailed.

Selenium bioaccumulation is a major water quality problem. The combination of California’s climate, hydrology, Se loading, Se reactivity, and Se bioavailability poses a significant threat to the aquatic ecosystem of the Lower San Joaquin River and Bay-Delta. Selenium contamination is damaging beneficial uses, degrading food sources of humans and wildlife, aesthetic, recreation and ecological values. Risks to fish and bird reproduction could lead to extinction via contamination of the invertebrate food supply. Filter feeders are great concentrators of Se. Aquatic insects were the primary food item of shore birds. The Report concludes that bivalves appear to be the most sensitive indicator of Se contamination in the Bay-Delta. In the Bay-Delta and the lower San Joaquin River tidal action will increase the resident time of Se, exposing all aquatic organisms and increasing the ability of food organisms to accumulate greater amounts of Se and pass it up the food chain to predators.

Studies indicate that the highest concentrations of Se (12 to 23 ppb) were measured in green sunfish (lepomis cyanellus) from the San Luis Drain where seleniferous drainage is most concentrated. The second highest concentrations of Se (7.6 to 17 ppb) were measured in green sunfish (lepomis cyanellus) and 14 to 18 ppb Se in bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus) taken from North Mud Slough. The high levels (body burden) of Se could be related to the Se sequestered in the sediments and benthic organisms that is mobilized by the detritus–based food chain. (USGS, Biological Resources Division “Effects of an Agricultural Drainwater Bypass on Fishes Inhibiting the Grassland Water District and the Lower San Joaquin River, California” by Saiki, Michael J., Barbara A. Martin, Steven E. Schwarzbach, and Thomas W. May. In North American Journal of Fisheries Management, Vol. 21:624-635, 2001.

One can conclude that water borne Se is the single most predictor of pollution, that it can and continues to have an adverse affect on the aquatic ecosystem, associated fish and wildlife resources, uses and values (Saiki, et al-2001)

The bottom line is that saline / seleniferious soils of the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley contain a reservoir of Se, other trace elements and a variety of salts, that with irrigation, will continue to leach from the soils to the shallow groundwater for years and years to come. This Se leachate / drainage will continue to degrade down slope lands, surface and groundwater, fish and wildlife habitats and other beneficial uses of the receiving waters including the San Joaquin River and Delta.

Today we have the longest Selenium hazardous waste site know to man, extending from at least the Mendota pool and the Grasslands (near Los Banos), downstream via the San Joaquin River to the Delta, Suisun Bay and adjacent marshes. This involves 130 miles of San Joaquin River, miles of waterways in the Delta and 1,000s upon 1,000s of acres of San Joaquin Valley lands and aquatic ecosystems.

With the above information one could allege that the continued irrigation of saline / seleniferious soils of the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley and Se contaminated discharges to the San Joaquin River constitute a waste and unreasonable use of the State’s water, and a nuisance.

This Committee or a court should review the drainage issue and associated impacts to determine if such a use of water is both beneficial and reasonable within the context of continuing shortage of water, the broadened meaning of beneficial use of Section 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 and the contemporary equal priority setting of CVPIA, Section 3406 (a) (3) and the Clean Water Act, as amended.

To me this irrigation use of water, associated drainage, Selenium and other impacts is just as inconsistent with reasonable use and public trust protection as is the filling of tidelands (Mark v. Whitney 6 Cal, 3d 251 -1971); as is allowing mining waste and debris that impacted water quality and impede navigation (Woodruff v North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. (Fed Rpt. Vol. 12 – 1884) and People v Gold Run Ditch and Mining Co. (4 Pac Rpt at 1152 – 1884); as is a ranch or farm which allows animal wastes and other filth to contaminate the waters of a stream which impacts the water supply and beneficial uses of downstream users (People ex rel Ricks Water Co. v Elk River Mill and Lumber Co. (40 Pac Rpt 486 –1895); as is the deposition of mill wastes and other debris which destroys aquatic life and a fishery ( People v Truckee Lumber Co.(16 Cal 397, 48 Pac 347 - 1897) , and as is the diversion of water which destroys numerous uses and values protected by the public trust reaffirmed or clarified in Audubon (National Audubon Society v Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles (33 Cal 3d 419, 658 P 2d 709, 189 Cal Rpt.346; cert denied 464 U.S. 977 – 1983).

The point made by the Elk River Court that if the conformation of the defendant’s land is such that he cannot carry on a dairy without putting such filth directly into the water, then he must find some other use for the land (emphases added). This rational thinking of over 110 years ago is particularly relevant to today’s Se, salt, drainage and wastewater issues associated with the irrigation of selected lands in the San Joaquin Valley. Following the thinking of the Elk River Court, if the Westside farmers cannot carry on their operations without polluting the local ground and surface waters, then they must find some other use for the land. And there is no taking issue for a use that is deemed unreasonable and a nuisance (Audubon).

Some Suggested Actions

Control of agricultural pollution also might be achieved by instituting best management practices, land retirement, and by economic incentives (substantial fines, forfeiture of all or a portion of appropriated water rights or contract allotments). Land retirement is an important option. Removing Federal irrigation water from being use on the Se source lands. Taking the land out of production that is the source of the majority of the salt and selenium problems should have quick and positive results and many public benefits. This can be attained by direct purchase of land or the irrigation rights, leasing land, purchasing the irrigation water allotment to such lands while prohibiting the use of groundwater on those lands.

Retiring lands containing significant levels of selenium or other toxic materials would have just a one time cost. A long term lease might also work, for there would be little if any maintenance costs. Land not needed for conservation purposes such as restoring native grasslands and related fauna of the San Joaquin Valley, could be sold, with title restrictions, for selected compatible uses such as dry land farming, grazing, etc. Within the Westlands Water District problem soils have been estimated at 100,000 to 275,000 acres (USBR, April 1991).

At a cost of $1,000.00 per acre it would cost $100,000,000.00 to retire 100,000 acres or $275,000,000.00 for the 275,000 acres. Lands acquired should be purchased with today's realities in mind. This includes limited or poor ground water, extensive selenium and sodium sulfate problems. Any value added to the price of land should not be based on speculation, the availability of Federally subsidized water, or on the potential construction of a Federal drainage facilities. A reality is that problem soils without water are just about worthless.

For each acre of irrigated land retired, there would be commensurate saving of about 2.0 to 3.5 acre feet of water per acre (depending on crop) or about 200,000 to 350,000 acre feet for each 100,000 acres taken out of irrigation. This water is firm yield water imported from northern California. For each irrigated acre taken out of production there would be a reduction of 20 to 60 pound of pesticides (active ingredients) plus 80 to 250 pounds of carrier materials, (oils, etc.) not applied to the soils. There would be a reduction of the amount of drainage and wastewater generated of about .6 to .8 acre feet per acre of land retired or 60,000 to 80,000 acre-feet for each 100,000 acres retired. There would be a saving in electrical energy by not having to pump water from the Delta. There should be benefits to fish resources and associated fisheries as up to 600,000 to 900,000 acre-feet would not have to be pumped from the Delta.

The water savings could be used to restore or otherwise benefit fish resources and fisheries throughout the waters of the Bay-Delta watershed. Any remaining water could be sold for municipal uses.

Economic incentives may be effective because of the existence and potential threat of law suits using the public trust doctrine, waste and unreasonable use, and the State's enforcement powers. A finding of a waste and unreasonable use of water by a court or the State Board or a finding based on the public trust could bind all entities discharging selenium, boron and sodium sulfate laden drainage and wastewater in to state waters.

Based on the State Board's 1984 (Agricultural Water Management Guidelines for Water Purveyors) and 1985 State Board Order WQ 85-1 definition of what constitutes an unreasonable use of water, the effects from irrigating saline, seleniferious soils are such that this use must be considered a waste and unreasonable use of water and the resultant drainage and wastewater a nuisance. This violates Article X, Section 2, of the State Constitution. The premise of the Federal Clean Water Act, as amended, is violated. The impacts violate Section 8 of the 1902 Reclamation Act, which requires compliance with State laws. Section 8 also says; Provided, That the right to the use of water acquired under the provisions of this Act shall be appurtenant to the land irrigated, and beneficial use shall be the basis, the measure and the limit of the right.

Thank you.

Felix E. Smith

4720 Talus Way

Carmichael, CA 95608

MillerHearofJuly22007

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People with passion and people who babble about it

Submitted: Jul 03, 2007
Mr. Carter will give us the BIG picture on the Merced River - where it comes from and where it goes - as well as the importance of the river to our communities. Lloyd Carter is very knowledgeable about water issues and will also be speaking at the later in the day...Lloyd Carter continues his exploration of water and river issues in the San Joaquin Valley context. 1.5 hour talk at Heartland Festival/River Fair, Riverdance Farm, 2007.

At the public meeting of the East Merced Resources Conservation District on June 20, held at the Golden Bi-Product Tire Recycling Co. offices, Glenn Anderson, a district director, made an interesting comment about a speaker at the recent Heartland Festival/River Fair, held at the farm of another director, Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook. The EMRCD was the main sponsor of the River Fair.

Anderson described Lloyd Carter, the best natural resources journalist the San Joaquin Valley has ever had, as "not positive or forward-looking." Anderson, not really attending the speech but overhearing it while waiting for a ride to another part of the farm, said Carter sounded like he was on a "rant."

Lashbrook noted that Carter's talk was the best attended of the day, and that a little controversy is OK. The term she used was a "pepper of controversy." Perhaps a small slice of jalapeno in a salad of old green jeans in what she meant. One is never sure.

These are the sort of people who use the word "passion" like the T shirt they bought at their last workshop on "organics and global warming."

Lloyd Carter's passion for the truth about agribusiness, subsidized water, the death of the San Joaquin River, the wildlife tragedy of the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge and in Boswell's Tulare Lake, selenium and other heavy metals, crooked Valley politicians, state and federal water policy and US Fish and Wildlife Service whistleblowers was stronger than his desire for a steady job in the newspaper business. And so he does something else now for a living instead of the journalism at which he excelled magnificently, and we only get to read him rarely in opinion pieces and letters to the editor, mostly in the Fresno Bee.

Researching an article on another topic that Carter knows a lot about, we found this following piece written by him in 1999 for a national audience. Readers will learn and enjoy this fine writer on the beat he has paid dearly to cover because, unlike the T-shirt passion set, Lloyd Carter speaks the truth to the most powerful people in our Valley -- with real passion.

Badlands editorial staff
----------------

The destruction of the American West -- starring big agribusiness and the government that supports it
By L. G. Carter
Penthouse Magazine, January 1999
Reprinted without permission
http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/~rakerman/articles/ph-Destruct_USA_West.html

Way out West the big farmers fly Lear jets, have private airstrips on gargantuan factory farms, control politicians in both major parties, and harvest barrelfuls of taxpayer subsidy money. They also dry up rivers, pollute aquifers, and conscript an army of Third World families to bring in the crops at below-povertyline wages. Grotesque deformities in ducks and geese, poisoned national wildlife refuges, massive fish kills, and pesticide-sprayed fields littered with thousands of dead birds are common, and unpunished, depredations in California's agricultural heartland, despite numerous state and federal wildlife-protection laws.

Meanwhile, the small farmers, whom Thomas Jefferson called the backbone of democracy, continue to disappear from the American landscape at a rate of more than 100,000 a year as a result of governmental and banking policies and the greed of food processors and exporters.

By 1989 only 1.9 percent of Americans lived on farms (compared to 90 percent in 1900), and the 1989 figure is misleading at that because the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists as a "farm" anyplace selling as little as $1,000 worth of agricultural products.

The capital of America's Agropolis is California's San Joaquin Valley, a cornucopia of more than 200 crops that generates $14 billion a year in gross farm income. And the uncrowned king of Agropolis is J. G. Boswell II, a reclusive, unassuming man who calls himself a simple cowboy. In fact he grows more cotton than any other individual in the world. No one knows how rich he is, but his power is vividly illustrated by some of his "accomplishments" during the past half century:

Along with a handful of other big growers, he got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (funded, of course, by the American taxpayer) to build four "flood control" dams on rivers flowing out of the Sierra Nevada so Boswell et al. could safely farm the bottom of what was once the biggest body of water west of the Mississippi River, the legendary Tulare Lake. Boswell now controls rights to public water that could well be worth nearly $1 billion. His property in California alone is estimated at 250,000 acres.
When big-rainfall winters reflood the old Tulare Lake Basin, Boswell collects millions of dollars in federal subsidies for not growing crops on the bottom of a natural lake bed.
Boswell persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to let the richest grower with the most land in a California water district--namely, himself--control district water policy, creating what Justice William 0. Douglas called a "corporate kingdom undreamed of by those who wrote our Constitution."
Boswell got his lawyers to set up a trust for his employees in 1989 to evade federal acreage limitations for cheap federal irrigation supplies in the Westlands Water District, reaping an extra $2 million a year in water subsidies, according to a General Accounting Office study.
In 1982 Boswell was instrumental in blocking a "peripheral canal" to shunt fresh northern California water around the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region in order to retain possible future access to north-coast California rivers.
As the U.S. Justice Department looks the other way, his 3,000-acre Tulare Basin evaporation ponds for toxic farm drainage water are triggering deformities in migratory ducks and shore birds supposedly protected by federal law.
Boswell has so far not taken any responsibility for a massive fish and wildlife kill on a 25 mile stretch of canal in h is cotton kingdom that in the late summer of 1997 destroyed 100 million fish and thousands of birds.
This sad spectacle is what is known as agribusiness.

Boswell has plenty of company in irrigation country out West, where growers have industrialized the fields and gained control of entire rivers. These corporate farmers usually don't live down on the farm. In California they often live in mansions in the city. One zip code in an exclusive neighborhood in Fresno--the nation's farm capital--receives more farm-subsidy checks than anywhere else. Fresno was the top farm-subsidy city in America between 1985 and 1995, with area residents receiving 22,419 checks totaling $103.4 million in taxpayer farm subsidies.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just six percent of our farms--the so-called megafarms--produce 59 percent of the crops in America. Eighty percent of the beef slaughter in America is controlled by just four meatpacking conglomerates, which more than doubled their market share in the past 18 years.

Boswell's domain is the Tulare Lake Basin, comprising parts of Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties in central California. His water rights are a real gusher, all granted from the public: They are equivalent to the needs of a city of three million people and are worth nearly $1 billion, more than twice the value of the land, according to a 1989 article in Forbes magazine, thus placing Boswell in the billionaire club. He also has extensive cotton lands in Arizona, pioneered the cotton industry in Australia, and has long been involved in urban development and real estate in Southern California and Arizona.

Boswell, who helped launch the political careers of three governors--Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Ronald Reagan, and Pete Wilson--is legendary for his behind-the-scenes ability to avoid legal problems or get water laws either interpreted liberally or simply rewritten.

In 1969, when heavy rains hit California and the old Tulare Lake bed began to fill up, Boswell, as the largest landowner in the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, shunted floodwater away from a planned district overflow area because he wanted to plant that area to cotton. Instead the water flowed into the lake, flooding his land and that of other nearby landowners, including the Salyer brothers, the second-largest growers in the lake basin. The Salyer Corporation sued the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District over an existing California water-code section that allowed one vote for every acre--in other words, giving the largest landowner the most votes and control of district policy and elections. Boswell simply used his acreage-based votes to direct the water-district board to flood out his neighbors' fields and keep the planned floodwater storage basin dry.

The Salyer suit finally worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1973 a young Nixon High Court appointee named William Rehnquist, fresh from a law firm in Phoenix, wrote the majority decision, which in effect ruled for the Boswell corporation, arguing that even though water districts were political subdivisions of the state of California, the one-man, one-vote rule should not apply because the largest landholders had the most at stake during flood situations. Constitutional-law textbooks now refer to this decision as an "anomaly" in the American franchise system based upon the hallowed democratic tradition that corporations do not get to vote--and one person, no matter how rich, gets only one vote.

Justice Douglas castigated the Rehnquist ruling in a strongly worded dissent: "It is indeed grotesque to think of corporations voting within the framework of political representation of people," he wrote. "One corporation can outvote 77 individuals in this district."

Boswell, who has escaped major media attention for decades despite his enormous wealth and influence in agriculture, is famous for reaping government windfalls while decrying government support programs. When the rivers of the Southern Sierra flooded the Tulare Lake Basin, as they had done from time immemorial, Boswell collected more than $10 million in federal flood-relief money because his canals and water-delivery systems and cotton fields--located on the lake bed--had been flooded out or damaged. In addition, according to the Washington Post, Boswell got $3.7 million worth of grain from the controversial payment-in-kind program "for idling land that was under floodwater and could not have been planted."

In 1982 Congress, prodded by Western-state lawmakers, "reformed" the 1902 Reclamation Law, which President Theodore Roosevelt had pushed through Congress to put "family farmers" onto the Western deserts. The 1982 bill (1) eliminated the residency requirement, which had never been enforced (so the big growers can continue living in their mansions in town) and (2) raised the acreage limitation for receiving cheap federally subsidized water from 160 acres (which was routinely circumvented) to 960 acres. Even 960 acres wasn't enough for Big Ag. The loopholes in the 1982 "reform" law were large enough to drive John Deere tractors through, and Boswell and the other big Western growers promptly found ways to evade the 960-acre limitation, primarily through leasing arrangements and complex trusts.

In 1989 the U.S. General Accounting Office said Boswell had set up a trust for 326 salaried employees to evade the 960-acre cheap-water cap on his 23,238 acres in the Westlands. Those acres continued to be farmed as one unit by Boswell, who has managed to reap $2 million a year in water subsidies alone from the trust arrangement.

Boswell doesn't have to worry about wildlife laws either. Routine botulism outbreaks in the Tulare Basin, which can kill tens of thousands of migratory birds at a time, are usually attributable to agricultural and irrigation activities, yet enforcement actions are rarely undertaken by the California Department of Fish and Game or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In September 1997 an estimated 100 million fish and 2,300 federally protected birds died in an unexplained disaster along a 25-mile canal on the Boswell holdings. Local game wardens said they could not remember a bigger wildlife die-off in the valley. Crime investigators from the federal and state wildlife agencies were quoted in local newspapers as saying they would uncover the source of the deaths (one potential cause was pesticides) and prosecute those responsible. Nearly a year later no action had been taken.

Boswell has now retired to Ketchum, Idaho, and his son James runs the cotton empire from his home in suburban Los Angeles, although it is believed the elder Boswell still holds the reins.

While Boswell has escaped media scrutiny, he and his cohorts face an ominous threat, which, fittingly enough, they brought upon themselves. Irrigated agriculture on millions of acres of unsuitable soils in the American West is destroying aquifers, salting up land, and poisoning wildlife that once filled the rivers and wetlands west of the Mississippi.

A trace element called selenium, leached from the soil by flood irrigation and dissolved in drainage water flowing from the big irrigation projects, is moving into downstream food chains and causing deformities in migratory birds at--of all places--national wildlife refuges throughout the West. And selenium isn't the only problem. Depending on the soils being drained, the drainwater can also contain dangerous levels of dissolved boron, molybdenum, mercury, arsenic, lead, vanadium, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, sulfates, and even uranium.

Drainage water from irrigated agriculture is created because searing summertime temperatures in California and Western desert lands bring salts, trace elements, and heavy metals to the surface on ancient-seabed shale soils. This witch's brew of chemicals slowly rises into the root zone of crops, threatening productivity. Irrigation waters imported from other areas carry more salts. Flood irrigation in areas with subterranean clay layers further exacerbates the problem of shallow salty groundwater. Agricultural scientists have known for decades that the only way to keep crop production up is to lower the water table below the root zone by pumping the toxic wastewaters out of the ground and sending them somewhere else.

"Since the 1930s an army of government scientists has provided a plethora of disturbing hard facts about selenium," says Joe Skorupa, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who investigated the bird deformities at Boswell's pond. "Unlike other major pollution problems, however, such as acid rain, oil spills, or smog, the government has not only failed to move an inch toward protecting the American public and a wide diversity of public-trust resources, but, incomprehensibly, actually continues to completely exempt agricultural pollution from the Clean Water Act. In the San Joaquin Valley alone, every year of inaction adds the equivalent of about 13,000 Exxon Valdez spills of selenium-tainted wastewater to the legacy of runaway pollution that our children and grandchildren one day will despise today's spineless federal government for."

Skorupa, a fierce critic of the Department of the Interior's alleged selenium policy, adds, "The truly tragic public-policy aspect of all this is that most of the selenium pollution is as economically senseless as it is environmentally senseless, and those facts have been documented in excruciating detail by the federal government's own General Accounting Office. What may amount to America's biggest dirty little secret has been impervious to rational policymaking for more than 60 years, and counting."

The West's selenium trouble, like many problems in irrigated agriculture, is magnified in the western San Joaquin Valley, where Boswell and other growers in the Westlands have successfully evaded any serious federal efforts at a cleanup or prosecution under wildlife laws.

For more than a decade, attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department, under pressure from elected officials who are under pressure from their agribusiness patrons, have simply refused to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a tough bird-protection law with penalties that include both prison time and stiff fines. The treaty has been invoked only once, in 1985, against the federal government itself, to close down farm-drainwater evaporation ponds at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in central California, scene of the first confirmed bird deformities from selenium, discovered in 1983.

Boswell and the other big growers have also managed to avoid paying for the mess their drainage water created. In 1995 the Interior Department's Inspector General's Office also reported that Westlands Water District growers (Boswell has 23,000 acres in the Westlands) had managed to evade the $110 million tab for the Kesterson cleanup and related drainage studies. The $110 million bill was accumulating interest at the rate of $7 million a year, with the taxpayers picking up the tab.

But the Kesterson cleanup tab pales in comparison to the boondoggle desalinization plant in Yuma, Arizona, where Reclamation Bureau engineers have tried without success for decades to pull the farm-pollution toxins and salts from the Colorado River, which is tainted by agricultural return flow. Another Interior Inspector General's report, issued in 1993, said $660 million had been spent on the Yuma desalting plant with no success, and the bureau planned to spend another $1.5 billion by the year 2010, with no guarantee of any success.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been impotent to stop the farm-drainage pollution of rivers and wetlands because farm runoff was exempted from the Clean Water Act in 1977, including the highly toxic end-of-the-pipe subsurface drainage loaded with selenium as well as surface runoff. Indeed, as the Stockton (California) Record reported on June 19, 1998, the E.P.A.--siding with agribusiness--now wants to set standards for selenium and other trace elements and heavy metals in California that officials of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service contend will not protect many species of fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta region.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and his four immediate predecessors--Manuel Lujan, Donald Hodel, William Clark, and James Watt--have tried to cover up the Western drainage problem (Watt), to exercise benign neglect (Clark and Hodel), to claim ignorance (Lujan), or just to leave it for the next guy (Babbitt), because the only economically viable solution seems to be to retire the badlands being irrigated. And that solution is political suicide in farm country.

Only Hodel, who, ironically, is an oilman, tried to do the right thing in 1985 when he ordered Kesterson closed because his attorneys told him that Reclamation Bureau officials might be breaking criminal laws operating the Kesterson ponds. But even Hodel quickly experienced an agribusiness backlash and soon fell silent, allowing Kesterson to stay open another 18 months.

No wildlife refuge receiving toxic farm-drainage water in the West has been closed to the inflow of poisons since the Kesterson debacle 15 years ago, although selenium levels high enough to cause deformities have been confirmed at numerous wildlife refuges in several Western states and at a number of evaporation facilities operated by either local water districts (like Boswell's) or private corporations.

Interior Secretary Lujan, in an August 1991 visit to Yosemite National Park, claimed he was unaware of the bird killings and deformities, which by then had been documented for eight years and were confirmed in several states. Lujan said he did not know why aides would not keep him informed.

Environmentalists say the continued bird deformities and government paralysis or inability to halt the aquatic and avian food-chain poisoning demonstrates the still-potent clout of California agribusiness, which produced some $24.5 billion worth of food and fiber in 1996, but today represents less than three percent of the trillion-dollar annual California economy, which is nowadays primarily fueled by computers and electronics, defense, banking, and tourism.

Marc Reisner explained the Alice in Wonderland quality of California agribusiness this way in a 1993 revised version of his book Cadillac Desert: "Enough water for greater Los Angeles was still being used, in 1986, to raise irrigated pasture for livestock. A roughly equal amount--enough for 20 million people at home, at play, and at work--was used that year to raise alfalfa, also for horses, sheep, and (mainly) cows.... In 1985, however, the pasture crop was worth about $100 million, while Southern California's economy was worth $300 billion, but irrigated pasture used more water than Los Angeles and San Diego combined. When you added cotton (a price-supported crop worth about $900 million that year) to alfalfa and pasture, you had a livestock industry and a cotton industry consuming much more water than everyone in urban California--and producing [only] as much wealth in a year as the urban economy rings up in three or four days."

Not only are huge tonnages of California's river water required to grow cotton and food for dairy and beef cows raised in the central California desert, a 1997 Pacific Gas & Electric Company report on the 450-mile-long Central Valley (Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys combined) estimated that agricultural groundwater overdraft (extracting more than can be replenished annually) totals 15 percent of the entire state's annual net groundwater use. At current agricultural extraction rates, the San Joaquin Valley's groundwater supply will disappear in the next few decades.

To make matters worse, the Central Valley now has 1,600 dairies, the vast majority in the San Joaquin Valley, and the 850,000 cows on those dairies create as much natural waste as a city of 21 million people. There are only three state regulators to oversee disposal of this mountain of manure and river of cow urine, which is either kept in leaky lagoons that pollute the aquifer with nitrates or dumped into the San Joaquin River, which runs down the center of the valley The San Joaquin River is often called the most-abused river in the U.S., and in 1997 was named one of the nation's ten most-endangered rivers by American Rivers, a Washington-based advocacy group.

A May 1998 U.S. Geological Survey Report on San Joaquin Valley groundwater supplies, serving more than 2.5 million valley residents, said San Joaquin groundwater is among the poorest in quality in the U.S. The report said 25 percent of valley wells had nitrate levels--probably from fertilizers--that violated national drinking-water standards, and more than half the wells tested positive for pesticides, many of which don't have drinking-water standards.

While ripping off the liquid gold of California's rivers has been an agribusiness specialty for decades, scientists say current methods of disposing of farm drainage may be the final environmental insult that ruins not only aquifers and rivers, and destroys wildlife, but also ruins the very farms that are creating the toxic effluent.

A February 1998 federal-state study of the drainage problem in the western San Joaquin Valley noted 869,000 acres would have a shallow-groundwater problem by the year 2000, and more than 410,000 acres would have salinity and boron problems "sufficiently high to limit agriculture."

To combat the salty-groundwater problem, California growers in the past four decades have installed 33,000 miles of subsurface drainpipes to collect these shallow saline groundwaters and pump them somewhere else--to the nearest river, a public or private evaporation pond, or a low-lying national wildlife wetlands refuge. This "solution" has been bad for the receiving waters and fish and wildlife in every case.

Although estimates of present and future "problem water" are hard to nail down in an atmosphere of nonregulation, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Theresa Presser, who has been studying the selenium problem in California for nearly two decades, estimates that 150 billion gallons of toxic farm subsurface drainage water is generated annually in the Golden State. While the farm wastewater from the San Joaquin Valley flows north into the San Joaquin River or festers in evaporation ponds, the drainage from the Coachella and Imperial valleys at the southern end of the state enters the polluted Salton Sea. Huge fish and bird die-offs are a regular occurrence there, and biologists say the Salton could become utterly lifeless in the near future as the continued influx of salts and toxins in the drainage overwhelms all aquatic species.

While birds were dying by the thousands at Kesterson, Boswell had the audacity in the summer of 1984 to send California Water Commission members on a tour of his 3,165-acre evaporation pond complex and have his drainage district manager, Steve Hall, claim that selenium had not been found in the Tulare Basin soils or evaporation ponds. This, of course, could not have been true, as the bird deformities at the Boswell ponds (first tested and confirmed in 1987) turned out to be far worse than at Kesterson. Hall could only have meant there hadn't been any selenium tests yet of Boswell's drainage. In the manner of other Boswell employees who have moved on to bigger and better things in Water World, Hall is now executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, where he continues to espouse western San Joaquin Valley agriculture's views on water issues.

Throughout 1984 the Kesterson problem continued to worsen. By early 1985 neighboring cattle ranchers Jim and Karen Claus had won a State Water Resources Control Board cleanup order for Kesterson. A CBS "60 Minutes" segment aired on March 10, 1985, showing the ugly ducklings at Kesterson and embarrassed Reclamation officials fumbling to explain the debacle.

Interior Secretary Hodel had enough when advisers told him local Bureau of Reclamation officials might be violating the criminal provisions of the Migratory Treaty Act by keeping Kesterson open. On the Ides of March 1985 he announced that he was closing Kesterson. The announcement sent shock waves through irrigated agriculture that are still felt to this day.

By 1986 the Kesterson ponds had been dried out and Interior scientists looking around the West were discovering selenium contamination in Boswell's local water-district drainwater evaporation ponds in the Tulare Basin, at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California, at the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada (in combination with mercury), and at dozens of other national wildlife refuges around the West. While federal officials began the process of endless studies, no action was taken to halt the selenium poisoning of the wildlife-refuge system, which continues to this day.

A national blue-ribbon 26-member panel of wildlife experts issued a scathing report in August 1991, charging directors of the nation's premier wildlife research center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Patuxent Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, with harassing field-level biologists and attempting to downplay the threat of the growing selenium pollution problem. The report, obviously referring to federal biologist Harry Ohlendorf (who'd discovered the deformities at Kesterson), pesticide researchers Chuck Henny and Larry Blus, and Joe Skorupa (who had investigated the bird deformities at the Boswell ponds), said government scientists "had paid a personal price for upholding good science in the face of heavy political, bureaucratic, and social pressures." Felix Smith, the federal biologist who first blew the whistle at the Kesterson refuge, was named in news reports as being hounded into early retirement for trying to protect migratory birds.

In a 1994 Audubon magazine article reporter Ted Williams discussed harassment of field-level federal biologists and quoted Felix Smith as saying that the day Fish and Wildlife Service officials agreed to take drainage at Kesterson "was the day we made a bargain with the devil."

When Kesterson erupted in the news in the summer of 1984, President Reagan's old California friend Bill Clark had just taken over as secretary of the Interior; he promised that a solution to the drainage disposal problem was near, adopting the time-honored political tactic of ordering a lengthy state-federal study. His ploy worked. A $50-million state-federal study commenced in 1985 with much fanfare, and ended in 1990 with a whimper. It was full of good recommendations, including one for retiring hundreds of thousands of acres of bad land. It was also promptly shelved.

The Reclamation Bureau has finally launched a modest program to retire the first 12,000 acres of high-selenium soils in the Westlands. At that pace it will take 200 years to retire all the bad land just in the 600,000-acre Westlands. No one even talks about the millions of acres of high-selenium farmland all around the West that should be taken out of production.

Congress passed another reclamation reform bill in 1992 to put more federal irrigation water back into California's depleted rivers and the San Francisco Bay-Delta to help revive the moribund salmon runs, but Westland growers, backed by valley politicians, have been working ceaselessly to rescind or weaken that law.

Fish and Wildlife's Skorupa complained in the Audubon article that he took a solid case for criminal acts at the Boswell killing ponds to Justice Department attorneys just before the 1992 election but that the federal prosecutors got cold feet and weak spines.

"We were told we had an excellent case," Skorupa told Audubon's Williams, "that they had every confidence that it was winnable, but that until we went and got someone at least at the secretarial level in Interior to give a clear policy directive, the Justice Department would not pursue it."

Skorupa says that about half of 161 federal irrigation-project drainage sites in the West studied between 1986 and 1993 have selenium levels high enough to trigger embryotoxicity, which can include deformities. What is more depressing is that federal irrigation projects make up only about a quarter of all irrigated agriculture in the Western United States. The other 75 percent of the irrigated land in the West has not even been looked at for selenium poisoning.

Eleven years after the first confirmed selenium-caused bird deformities at the Boswell ponds, the Department of Justice, with Janet Reno presently at the helm, still has taken no action against Boswell, and any possible prosecutions for the bird deaths Skorupa painstakingly documented beginning in 1987 are falling prey to the statute of limitations. An angry Skorupa can only shake his head.

Although the government has had serious warnings about selenium problems in the West for more than 50 years, the Department of the Interior was still claiming in 1997 that selenium had been an "unforeseen consequence of irrigation drainage. That '97 report from the National Irrigation Water Quality Program also claimed that "because complete investigation of every irrigated area in the Western United States is impractical, managers need to be able to predict where selenium contamination is likely."

But it's not impractical at all, insists Theresa Presser, who was one of the first to document the widespread selenium contamination in the western San Joaquin Valley. According to Presser, selenium contamination is also likely not only where soils have selenium ejected from ancient volcanoes during the Cretaceous age, but also where ancient seabed soils have been uplifted by geologic activity over eons, such as California's Coast Range. In other words, human irrigation and export of the resulting drainage water into evaporation ponds or wetlands is doing in a few years what nature took millions of years to do.

It's clear that no one in the Clinton administration is going to make the hard decisions about getting the toxic soils in the West out of production. In late May 1998 the E.P.A. held a conference in Washington, D.C., that was attended almost entirely by big selenium polluters--oil companies, mining companies, major agribusiness, coal-burning utilities. They all argued against any E.P.A. review of the current standards for selenium in rivers, lakes, and marshes, which scientists say is at least twice as high as it should be and which may lead to the extinction of at least 20 species of fish and wildlife.

Boswell and the other agribusiness lords are determined not to become extinct themselves. Last March a consortium of state and federal agencies that dances to the tune of agribusiness announced a new plan to build a peripheral canal around the Delta and import yet more northern California river water to the selenium fields of the western San Joaquin Valley.

In July the Western Water Policy Review Commission, created by Congress in 1992, issued its report, three years behind schedule. The report identified agricultural wastewater as the single largest source of pollution in the West, recommended phasing out federal water subsidies, and specifically suggested that subsurface drainage water, which triggers the bird deformities, be brought under the Clean Water Act and regulated because it is an end-of-the-pipe type of pollution.

The response of the growers was typical. "The sooner this report gets put on a shelf and starts gathering dust the better," said Jason Peltier, manager of the Central Valley Project Water Association.

Dinosaurs swing big tails going down.

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New Merced County Planning Commissioner: fast and loose with public processes, public funds

Submitted: Jun 29, 2007

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition recently sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging him to terminate his opposition to the Williamson Act. The text of the letter appears below. http://www.calcattlemen.org/index.htm (click on the California Rangeland Resolution) will give the text of the historical coalition resolution developed by cattlemen, government agencies and environmental groups for the conservation of rangeland/seasonal pasturelands, vernal pools, the 15 endangered species associated with them, which also protects Central Valley watersheds. The link will also supply readers with a list of the Coalition's founders and members.

Two Coalition founders from Merced County, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and the San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, signed the Rangeland Coalition letter urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to terminate the Williamson Act, one of the most valuable land-use tools in California for the preservation of rangeland on the borders of the Central Valley, including a great many acres in Merced County.

Reading the final text of the letter to the governor, the Raptor Center and the
Conservancy were perplexed to find the name of recently appointed Merced County Planning Commissioner Cynthia Lashbrook, signing on behalf of
the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth (MARG).

Among the numerous environmental organizations that Lashbrook belongs to, MARG is an inappropriate vehicle. It appeared Lashbrook simply grabbed the most convenient organization at her disposal at the time to get her name on the letter signed by a number of prestigious people and organizations with a proven record of commitment to the defense of rangeland. A far more appropriate group would have been the East Merced Resource Conservation District. However, Lashbrook was unable to convince the district board to blindly sign the letter during a teleconference special meeting on June 14.

As founders of the Coalition, the Raptor Center and the Conservancy said that it is a movement and far more than one letter to one governor. In the list of 24 organizations and/or businesses Commissioner Lashbrook is involved with as staff, grant-writer, director, owner or member, we see no real connection to the goals of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition. The two local Coalition founders said their impression that Lashbrook was indulging in mere self-promotion was deepened by rumors that the commissioner’s opinion is that rangeland should be the site of urban sprawl in preference to Valley farmland. The Coalition founders doubt MARG ever heard of the work and resolution of the Coalition before Lashbrook presented its leadership with a last-minute opportunity to get its name in front of the governor’s staff.

Valley environmental activists are quite familiar with this kind of hustle. We remember a once-prominent environmental attorney whose desks and wallets were stuffed with business cards announcing himself as counsel to organizations that had no clue that he was their counsel. Another shining example was a prominent local rancher/developer and former secretary of state Department of Food and Agriculture who was the president of every USDA-spawned organization in the north San Joaquin Valley and beyond, in a career of prominence in paper groups that started before puberty. A rich man, he bought his state office fair and square from Gov. Gray Davis, along with more than 500 acres, annexed to the City of Merced, in the path of growth to UC Merced.

When Lashbrook, an associate director of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, presented this letter to the district board at its Special Meeting on June 14, the board wisely deferred this matter, appearing not to have read the letter. Nor was it on the meeting agenda.

When she signed this letter on behalf of MARG, which has about as much knowledge of the Coalition as it does about Uruguayan foreign policy, they compromised the integrity of founders and members of the Coalition and weakened the force of the letter. If Lashbrook and MARG has dared to write their own letter, this unpleasantness would have been avoided. We find no evidence on the MARG website, apparently taken over entirely by the Wal-Mart Action Team, that they did write their own letter.

Commissioner Lashbrook habitually promotes herself on other peoples’ work and integrity without consultation but for compensation.

She and the East Merced Resource Conservation District staff and directors castigated the Merced River Stakeholders group a month earlier for not enthusiastically endorsing a half-million-dollar grant proposal sponsored by the district, which claimed stakeholders’ support, without distributing a copy of the final proposal before submitting it to the state Department of Water Resources. Lashbrook, in one or more of her staff capacities, will financially benefit if the DWR approves the grant. There were only two stakeholders who even read the draft proposal.

Lashbrook is playing fast and loose with public processes and public funds. But, in Merced County, this is as good as it gets for appointees and potential appointees to committees, focus groups, boards and commissions, among them the East Merced Resource Conservation District.

If members of the Merced County public do not accept the policy of uncontrolled growth and finance, insurance and real estate propaganda, they can expect to be insulted, intimidated and red-baited by elected and appointed officials and staff.

Badlands editorial board
------------

ATTACHMENTS:

CALIFORNIA RANGELAND CONSERVATION COALITION: Ranchers, Conservationists and Government Working Together for the Benefit of All

June 19, 2007
The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor
State of California
State Capitol, First Floor
Sacramento, CA 95812

RE: May Revise – Williamson Act

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

Partners to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are alarmed by the May revise to your fiscal year 07-08 budget which proposes the elimination of subvention funding to California counties for the Williamson Act.

This proposed elimination is contrary to the underlying goals of our partnership, to protect California’s rangeland landscape.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an unprecedented group of California ranchers, environmentalists and agencies. Together, we want to preserve private working landscapes, support the long-term viability of the ranching industry, and protect and enhance California rangeland for protected and common species.

We recognize the Williamson Act is intrinsically linked to our Coalition’s ability to fulfill the guiding principles outlined within the enclosed California Rangeland Resolution, the foundation of the Rangeland Coalition.

Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are strong supporters of the Williamson Act and we truly recognize the role it plays in preserving rangeland. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fire and Resource Assessment Program California is losing tens of thousands of acres of rangeland annually. This significant conversion of rangeland contributes to the loss of open space, groundwater recharge, homes of common and threatened species, and family ranchers.

Research on these rangelands finds that nearly all of the species of grassland birds, most native plants and the threatened vernal pool ecosystem actually benefit from responsible grazing practices. The Williamson Act plays an important role in preserving California’s rangelands which are a critical foundation of the economic and social fabric of California’s ranching industry and rural communities, and will only continue to provide habitat for plants, fish and wildlife if the Williamson Act remains a viable tool for landowners.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition strongly supports subvention funding to California’s counties for the Williamson Act. Should you have any questions regarding our support please contact Tracy Schohr, Director of Rangeland Conservation, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition at (916) 444-0845 or
tschohr@calcattlemen.org.

Sincerely,

Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition
California Rangeland Conservation Coalition

May Revise – Williamson Act

Bruce Hafenfeld
President
California Cattlemen’s Association

Kim Delfino
California Program Director
Defenders of Wildlife

Mark Kramer
Director, Federal Government Relations
California Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

Doug Mosebar
President
California Farm Bureau Federation

Ralph Grossi
President
American Farmland Trust

Mark Bergstrom
President
American Land Conservancy

Aimee Rutledge
Executive Director
Sacramento Valley Conservancy

Nita Vail
Executive Director
California Rangeland Trust

Robert J. Stack, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Jumping Frog Research Institute

Pia Sevelius
District Manager
Butte County Resource Conservation District

Cynthia Lashbrook
Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth

William M. Hatch
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

Doug Johnson
Executive Director
California Invasive Plant Council

Lesa Osterholm
Bear River Watershed - Coordinator
Nevada County Resource Conservation District - Manager

Lydia M. Miller
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

Royce Larsen
President
California-Pacific Section of the Society for Range Management

Karen Sweet
Executive Officer
Alameda County Resource Conservation District

John Hopkins
President
Institute for Ecological Health

Lorri Pride
President
Glenn County Resource Conservation District

Vance Russell
Director of Landowner Stewardship Program
Audubon California

Charles (Toby) Horst
Director/Treasurer
Sierra Resource Conservation District

Carol W. Witham
California Native Plant Society

Lesa Eidman
Executive Director
California Wool Growers Association

Tacy Currey
Executive Director
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts

Patti Turner
District Manager
Colusa County Resource Conservation District

Janet Cobb
Executive Officer
California Wildlife Foundation
California Oak Foundation

Francis I. Hodgkins
Board of Trustees Chair
Sacramento River Watershed Program

Jamison Watts
Executive Director
Northern California Regional Land Trust

Judy Ahmann
President
California CattleWomen’s Association

Kirk Ford
Chair, Board of Directors
Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District

Mary Mitchell
District Manager
Western Shasta RCD

Chuck Peck
Executive Director
Sierra Foothill Conservancy
Enclosure: California Rangeland Resolution
--------------

6-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Ever thought of serving on one of the city's commissions? Now's your chance to volunteer...Leslie Albrecht...6-27-07
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13731287p-14316332c.html

The city is looking to fill vacancies on seven commissions that advise the City Council on everything from parks to the airport to bringing new business to Merced. Serving on a commission gives citizens an up-close look at how local government works, said city spokesman Mike Conway, but it also helps residents play a direct role in shaping their community. "(Commissioners) get to be part of the solution and they get the satisfaction of knowing that they're helping to build a better Merced," said Conway. To serve on most commissions, you must be at least 18 years old and a registered voter. Here's a quick look at commissions currently looking for warm bodies...

6-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Loose Lips: Last Updated: June 29, 2007, 03:17:33 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13739493p-14323639c.html

Red scare at the county building?...The Cold War is over... But this week that old familiar chill was back in the air — at the Merced County Administration Building, of all places. Maureen McCorry of Valley Land Alliance urged the county to look at environmental impacts before letting farmers subdivide their property. Supervisor Mike Nelson greeted McCorry's comment with this zinger: "It's nice to see that socialists are alive and well here." ...communist hordes...could some of them be living here in Merced? Nelson isn't worried about Reds in our midst, he told Lips, but he was serious when he made that remark. "I feel that (McCorry's) comment strikes at the heart of private property rights and is by its very nature socialist,"..."What it ends up being is people who think they can tell other people how to live their lives." That rubs Nelson the wrong way, to say the least. The right to private property, he told Lips, was first and foremost in our forefathers' minds when they founded these United States. Are those rights under attack in Merced County? "No, I'm not worried about the Communist Party taking over Merced County," said Nelson. "But I am concerned about those kind of attitudes and that those seem to be the people that we hear from the most." For McCorry's part, she would like to state for the record that she is not a card-carrying socialist. "I believe I'm functioning in a capitalist society that promotes freedom of speech,"..."We're just saying that we need to have parcels large enough to grow food — if it's socialist to say we have a societal interest in growing food, then I guess we're socialists."

6-27-07
Merced Sun-Star
Real estate broker newest planner...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13731309p-14316362c.html

Carole McCoy...Merced's newest Planning Commissioner, she'll sit on the board that advises the City Council on land use and development decisions.
Q: What's your opinion on the development boom Merced has seen in recent years?
A: I think it moved a little bit too fast without a lot of thought to the community this development was serving. They built a lot of new homes specifically for higher-end families. Merced is not a higher-end family city at this time. We're looking for that to come and the university (will contribute to) that.
But they built too many high-end homes with not enough families to support it who were living here and staying here. We had a lot of investors buy and take the money out of our area so it didn't do anything to help our community grow in a progressive manner.
So we need to give more thought to bringing businesses in to help the people that are living here.
Q: You'll be voting on the Wal-Mart distribution center, a controversial project that's drawn ire from local activists. How do you plan to handle that decision?
A: I plan to listen to all of the opinions given. Right now I'm definitely leaning toward the Wal-Mart distribution center because we've heard these same (arguments) before against the university and many other things that have come into our community and have been very successful. But I will definitely keep an open mind.
Q: With five out of the seven City Council members directly involved in the real estate industry, some people feel real estate interests have too much influence in city governance. What do you think?
A: Absolutely not. (Realtors) listen to everyone, that's what our life is all about...

6-27-07
Badlands Journal
Red Menace over Merced...Badlands editorial staff
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/

A rouge pall, like the Delta peat fires of old at twilight, hangs over Merced County. According to Supervisor Mike Nelson, the “socialists” were out this morning at the supervisors’ meeting. A group advocating agricultural preservation was arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella. By contrast, Nelson was a union Atwater City fireman for nine years and now draws a public salary from Merced County of over $65,000 a year plus thousands a month in perks, benefits and retirement, beside what the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board pays him to defend special interests from the peril of regulating the worst air pollution in the US. Nelson’s wife is a union public school teacher, drawing a public salary, health and retirement benefits. We suggest Nelson look again at the red menace hanging over the county. If he can see through the merciless rightwing hypocrisy, he will find it is red ink caused by the reckless, uncontrolled growth approved by majorities of the indemnified supervisors and city councils beholden and in some cases directly benefiting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.

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"A day that took too long in coming"

Submitted: May 01, 2007

That's what environmentalists are saying. But, at last, Julie MacDonald, corrupt political appointee to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is gone. She will long be remembered for her energetic assistance to the ESA-gutting Pomboza, composed of former Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and the still seated Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

The damning report of MacDonald's behavior included complaints by career Fish & Wildlife staff that she yelled and cursed at them. My! My! Could that be the reason career Fish & Wildlife staff occasionally yell and curse at the public?
-------------

5-1-07
Endangered Species and Wetlands Report
MacDonald resigns as deputy asst. secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Julie MacDonald, the DOI deputy assistant secretary who shared internal Fish
and Wildlife Service documents with the California Farm Bureau Federation,
the Pacific Legal Foundation, and an online gaming friend, has resigned,
Endangered Species & Wetlands Report has learned.

MacDonald submitted her resignation last night, sources told ESWR. The
department has not responded to a request made today for a copy of the
letter.

MacDonald also cursed and yelled at FWS career employees, the report said.
One FWS assistant director said MacDonald had been "abusive to her and had
become a liability to FWS," according to the IG report.

MacDonald was the subject of a recent Inspector General report that found
she broke federal regulations by sharing non-public information outside the
agency, and also by appearing to show preferential treatment. The report
also provided details on a number of instances where MacDonald, an engineer
by trade, overruled Fish and Wildlife Service scientists.

The Interior Department said it would respond to the IG report by April 30.
ESWR has not been able to obtain the reply.

Copyright Poplar Publishing/Endangered Species & Wetlands Report 2007
Steve Davies, editor (stevedavies@eswr.com)
http://www.eswr.com/aaeswr.htm

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"The court felt that this decision has precedential value," she said.

Submitted: Apr 21, 2007

There are 58 counties in California. Each is the land-use authority for all the unincorporated land within its boundaries. Some do not share the development pressure the UC Merced campus brought to Merced County. Others are richer and more clever than Merced County. If the California Environmental Quality Act is conceived as a well marked public path through a pasture, Merced local government can be seen to frequently stray from that path and step in something. Its tracks have "precedential value."
--------------

4-21-07
Merced Sun-Star
Court blocks mine expansion...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13508891p-14115210c.html

A California appeals court has blocked the expansion of a Le Grand mining company, reversing a Merced judge's decision that environmental reviews of the expansion were adequate...judgment is a victory for neighbors and environmentalists who filed suit against the Jaxon Enterprises mine and Merced County, arguing that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the expansion. The ruling says the county failed to fully evaluate how the mine's expansion will affect the environment...decision, handed down earlier this month by the 5th District Court of Appeals, reverses a 2006 ruling by Merced County Superior Court Judge Ronald Hansen. In 2004 the county Board of Supervisors voted to approve environmental studies on the mine's proposal and OK the expansion. Under the latest ruling, that approval is thrown out...Jaxon Enterprises must redo the environmental reviews and reapply for a county permit. Raptor Rescue Center attorney Marsha Burch said the main problem with the original study was that it failed to recognize that the mine wasn't just expanding its acreage, but also its output. "It was never made clear to the public or to the decision makers that the mine would actually be increasing their production," said Burch. "They were using incorrect information to conduct their entire analysis." Burch said the ruling carries extra weight because the appellate court decided to publish their judgment. That means future cases related to the California Environmental Quality Act can cite the ruling as case law. "The court felt that this decision has precedential value," she said. This is the third case brought by the Raptor Rescue Center against Merced County that has produced published case law. The other petitioners in the recent case were Protect Our Water and the Le Grand Community Association.

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April 12, 2007: Day in the life of the north San Joaquin Valley

Submitted: Apr 12, 2007

A strong, chilly wind is blowing in the north San Joaquin Valley today, stirring up an enormous amount of dust coming in part from graded but unfinished subdivisions, as the financial, insurance and real estate industry hunkers down for an explosion of mortgage default.

But, poetry aside, the news of the day is as gritty as the sight of tons of topsoil blowing away from the county.

The Merced Sun-Star editorialists have returned to wearing their other hats as editors of the UC Daily Bobcat, once again flakking for the institution where one administrator is currently serving 60 days for forgery and theft. In their opinion, we should all go out to the UC Merced to celebrate Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival. Last year's UCM Fairy Shrimp Festival was a dud, so the UC bobcatflaksters renamed it, evidently hoping the mammalian charm of cuddly bobcat mascot, Baby Boy, would overwhelm the feckless hauteur of the endangered crustaceans.

When it comes to wildlife, UC believes its right to exploit is above the law. It broke every regulation and practice on the care of wildlife when it appropriated its little mascot, found mysteriously in a paper bag outside the city zoo more than a year ago. He should have gone to a rehabilitation center certified for bobcats in Morgan Hill. Instead, he was stolen by UC Merced in violation of a number of regulations established by the state Department of Fish and Game, which that institution of easy virtue did not enforce. As for the fairy shrimp, even as UC pretends to celebrate vernal pools and the 15 federally endangered species that inhabit them, including the shrimp, in the densest fields of vernal pools in the nation that surround the campus site, UC lawyers are working ceaselessly behind the scenes to undermine the federal Clean Water Act provisions that would prevent UC Merced from expanding and destroying the vernal pools and the fairy shrimp. With that level of propaganda coming out of the UC Merced administration, the public wonders how much truth is taught in the classrooms. To suppose there was no connection between the propaganda and the instruction is naive.

UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June,

the UC Daily Bobcat announces, in another article that appears to be news but is just more propaganda. We think the UCM bobcatflaksters have a schedule made up at least a year in advance detailing the release of stories about how UCM administrators are developing this med school. Who can be against a med school? Right? Except, doesn't UC Davis -- also located, despite UC Merced flak, in Central California -- also have a med school? Why would it not expand its own medical services, as it has recently done as far away from Davis as Willits? Isn't the problem with medical services in the Valley the same as it is throughout the nation, rapacious insurance companies, aided and abetted in the latest Medicare "Reform" Act by the Valley's own former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield? Does the Valley really need another research medical facility, in the announced case of UC Merced, focused on respiratory diseases? UC Merced has precipitated the biggest speculative growth boom in local history, bringing with it immeasurable increases in air pollution. It appropriated the bobcat for sentiment; it wants to appropriate the vernal pools for its ediface complex; and it wants to appropriate our lungs for research grants.

Speaking of our lungs, UC Merced's partner within the UC system, UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, confessed recently that its bomb-testing activities on Site 300 near Tracy will put depleted uranium in the air. Perhaps UC Merced telemedical facilities on the west side will be able to measure how much depleted uranium will travel how far and how deadly its effects are, neatly broken down into ethnic cohorts. This sort of information will be of use to the Pentagon and UC will be able to get grants to study it, no doubt.

Not satisfied with terrorizing the north San Joaquin Valley with depleted uranium bomb drift, the UC Livermore lab is on the short list to locate the most dangerous type of biological warfare lab (Level 4) on the same site . The UC Livermore lab is in court with Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment, which sued over establishment in Livermore of a Level 3 lab. In testimony for the court, the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration provided this useful bit of information:

"it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks..."

The Level 4 lab UC Livermore wants to establish near Tracy would be called a National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, "which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants..."

In light of the world health threat posed by Avian Flu, it is an interesting choice of locations because the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds intersects in these counties with the largest concentration of poultry in the state. Assuming the wild, migratory birds to be the vector from Asia, where the virus is florishing, it seems likely, despite excellent bio-security at our modern poultry facilities, infection from the wild to the domestic could take place. Presumably, the proximity of the biolab would help the poultry industry deal more quickly with an epidemic, which in turn might help protect people in the vicinity. On the other hand, in the event of a "catastrophic accident" in the lab, or a terrorist attack on it, Avian Flu would be the least of our worries, down wind from Ebola, etc. We could have a biological Chernobyl on our hands?

We aren't supposed to ask that question because if we get scared, defense experts tell us, they -- the terrorists -- have already won.

But, don't worry: UC medical researchers in space suits would be right there to study your final moments and you would have made your personal contribution to research science. Maybe there will be a plaque over your mass gravesite.

That's just downright cynical, some would say. By not wanting this lab in our backyards, they would go on, we are preventing valuable scientific discovery and defeating our technological edge in this important field. Defense experts would go on to say that biological warfare is in our future and labs like these will have to produce the antidotes to weapons genetically engineered. And they will have do so quickly. And that's all we can know about it because the rest is secret for reasons of national security. We Americans must become "resilient" to terrorist attacks, the experts say. Like we were after 9/11? We were so resilient that in addition to having put our "footprints" on the "arc of instability" (aka Muslim nations with oil) we restricted habeas corpus, the oldest liberty we had -- not the acts of a people resilient either economically or politically. Given our national experience, what can we expect from the combination of universities, corporations and the government in response to more terrorist attacks but more autocracy, militarism and corruption? Given our local experience, can we expect this university to tell the truth about anything?

In other news of the day, Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student-loan sharks, have agreed to quit bribing college administrators in charge of advising students and their parents on where to get the student loans. This is a staggering ethical achievement. Sally Mae began in 1972 as a government program, but, as its website puts it, "The company began privatizing its operations in 1997, a process it completed at the end of 2004 when the company terminated its ties to the federal government." The investigation began in New York. Colleges and universities (UC loudest of all) bray about the personal and national necessity of higher education for one and all, leading the cattle to the financial slaughter while taking kickbacks. We will just have to wait and see which UC administrators were in on the deal. USC has already been hit with a scandal.

Here in Merced, the stink from local law enforcement is still rising, after all these months. A local criminal defense attorney, John Garcia, has filed a civil suit in Merced Superior Court, adding former DA Gordon Spencer to a list of respondents including the DA's office, Merced County and the Merced County Sheriff's Office. The suit alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and civic rights violation arising from what appears to be a drug sting operation. We can find no word on the Richard Byrd v. County of Merced, et. al. case filed in July 2006 in federal district court in Fresno. In that case, Byrd, a former local policeman, alleged that some of the same characters Garcia is suing bilked him out of a valuable piece of property while he was in the county jail on trumped up charges. Either Spencer was a sloppily corrupt public official or the Sun-Star got involved in a (prize-winning) witch hunt that produced no convictions. So far, the jury is still out unless the Byrd suit was settled so quietly the Sun-Star missed it.

The Modesto Bee is up in arms about mortgage foreclosures and beating the drums for federal assistance to homeowners. What McClatchy really means is a federal bailout for finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Mortgage lenders, focusing on areas like Stockton, Modesto and Merced, among other vulnerable locations in the nation (Atlanta and South Texas, for example), went on a feeding frenzy under the banner of "Freedom through Home Ownership," babbled daily in the press and in every other media outlet in the land. The "lending industry," as banks and other financial institutions like hedge funds and derivative ghouls are called these days, bought bundles of these loans, including a lot of bad paper. Now, they are crying to the federal government -- on behalf of the poor homeowners, naturally. The only question here is if the bailout of these obscenely wealthy speculators will be larger than the savings and loan bailout. If the experience of six years of Bush is any indication, the homeowning victims of predatory lending practices will get the shaft.

A desperate bit of flak from the state Department of Water Resources yesterday prefaces our next story:

“The Department of Water Resources has long been committed to balancing water operations with protection of the Delta environment,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “Today’s court filing underscores the department’s ongoing efforts to protect these resources, our actions to comply with the court’s findings, and the long term strategy to restore Delta ecosystems while ensuring reliable water supplies to the 25 million Californians served by the State Water Project.”

DWR sensitivity to the dying Delta ecosystem is so overwhelming that it filed with the Alameda Superior Court yesterday to do what it can to modify the judge's draft order to fix the environmental disaster caused by the state's systematic overpumping the Delta for the last four years. DWR enlisted the state Department of Fish and Game in its desperate plea. Once the judge issues a final order, DWR has 60 days to fix the problem. As the fish die and water rationing begins, there is bound to be an extraordinary display of sophistry. However, we think the last word has already been spoken by the original petitioner, Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. The state, he said, was "refrying the egg."

Meanwhile, The Bush pulled back another nomination for a top position at the Environmental Protection Agency, sensing it might have some problems in Congress. Nevertheless, the administration and a nation that spent the weekend dithering about Iran and Imus while the UN's report on global warming was ignored, especially that bit about human agency.

Bill Hatch
----------------

4-12-07
Merced Sun-Star
Time to mingle with Bobcats...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/ourview/story/13479121p-14088905c.html

Merced area residents will have a golden opportunity this weekend to get to know their recent neighbors to the north...Saturday's Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival represent a chance for Mercedians to get to know the almost brand-new UC Merced campus and the people who live and work there, as well as have some fun in the process. For the uninitiated, the Golden Bobcat is the school's mascot and vernal pools surrounding the campus are home to fairy shrimp. Events at the North Lake Road campus are free and open to the public... arts and crafts fair...vendors, live bands, performers and family-oriented presentations...public tours. Can't you visualize a 6-year-old deciding he wants to attend UC Merced when he grows up, based on the fun and inspiration he soaked up while visiting the campus with his mother, father and siblings? That could happen and we hope it does. The once-a-year event will allow UC Merced students and faculty to get to know local residents and people who have never visited the university to learn what it has to offer. Students trying to figure out their future academic direction certainly could gain some insight on programs and options at UC Merced... Let's bridge the distance between UC Merced and the city by enjoying Bobcat Day and the Fairy Shrimp Festival.

UC Merced plans to build high-tech health centers...Victor A. Patton
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13479084p-14088947c.html

UC Merced administrators say plans are in motion to establish a series of health centers in the San Joaquin Valley that would improve access to health care in underserved areas...the school has received a $225,000 state grant to jump-start plans to create four telemedicine centers, also referred to as "eHealth Centers." Telemedicine centers generally use videoconferencing equipment to transmit a patient's medical information and images from relatively remote areas to doctors and specialists in other areas of the state...centers also allow doctors in different areas to have live videoconferencing discussions about their patient's health -- even if they are hundreds of miles apart. University officials have not decided where the centers will be located since the plan is in its preliminary stages... Doctors from UC Davis and UC San Francisco will be providing some of the medical expertise. UC Merced is partnering with administrators at UC Davis to help develop the centers, since UC Davis was one of the first entities to establish its own telemedicine program in 1996. Establishing the telemedicine centers fits with UC Merced's ambitions to eventually establish a medical school at the campus. UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June. If the plan is approved by UC regents, the state legislature would then decide whether to fund the medical school.

Stockton Record
Livermore lab says bigger blasts would send depleted uranium into air...Jake Armstrong
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/A_NEWS/704120321

Bigger outdoor blasts proposed at an explosives test range southwest of Tracy could release up to 453 pounds of depleted uranium into the air a year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials told air pollution regulators in an application last week. Lab officials did not disclose that information in a November request to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District... The district initially granted the lab permission, but revoked the permit in March after learning the blasts would contain radioactive materials. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium, and when detonated, it would be carried by wind, said Gretchen Gallegos, of the lab's Operations and Regulatory Affairs Division. The lab has not found radiation levels above federal thresholds at its monitoring stations, she said. "All of our activities are well within any health measure, and there's nothing to be concerned about," Gallegos said. Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials will tour Site 300 Monday to further evaluate the University of California's proposal to locate there the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants. The visit is part of a nationwide tour of 18 sites vying for the federal laboratory. DHS officials will then shorten the list of proposals, conduct environmental reviews of the finalists, and decide on a site in October 2008.

San Francisco Chronicle
Livermore...'Unlikely' attack at lab could release microbes, study says...Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/12/BAGDDP78DN1.DTL&hw=livermore+lab&sn=004&sc=1000

U.S. Energy Department draft environmental assessment study concludes that a direct terrorist assault on the facility is "highly unlikely" to succeed. But because it acknowledges local activists' concerns that catastrophic accidents are possible, it is now up the lab critics who have sued to block the opening of the facility to consider whether to pursue further court action, including a possible order to stop the Livermore lab from opening the microbe facility. The Livermore site already has a lower-level lab for investigating microbial diseases, but the proposed new Biosafety Level 3 lab -- dubbed BSL3 for short -- would store microbes of medieval scariness. They include plague, botulism and Q fever, a bacterial disease that in its more virulent form, chronic Q fever, kills up to 65 percent of its victims...proposed lab would also investigate anthrax. In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Energy Department to conduct the environmental study following a suit by Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Construction of the facility was finished in 2005, but it hasn't opened pending the completion of litigation. On Wednesday, lab critics responded with scorn to the long-awaited, 80-page environmental study. The study was released by the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration...environmental study acknowledges that "dramatic human health impacts and economic disruption can result following the release of pathogenic materials...also says "it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks. The number of scenarios is large, and the likelihood of any type of attack is unknowable."...study does not describe any potential scenarios for terrorist attacks "because disclosure of this information could be exploited by terrorists to plan attacks." Ironically, the report includes a map showing the precise location of the microbe lab, in Building 360 on the Livermore lab site. Public feedback is welcome through May 11. Afterward, the Energy Department will issue a final version of the environmental assessment.

Modesto Bee
Sallie Mae settles, agrees to school-lending ethics...Karen Matthews
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13479198p-14089044c.html

The nation's largest student loan provider will stop offering perks to college employees as part of a settlement announced Wednesday in a widening probe of the student loan industry. SLM Corp., commonly known as Sallie Mae, also agreed to pay $2 million into a fund to educate students and parents about the financial aid industry, and it will adopt a code of conduct created by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is heading the probe. Cuomo said the expanding investigation of the $85 billion student loan industry has found numerous arrangements that benefited schools and lenders at the expense of students. Investigators say lenders have provided all-expense-paid trips to exotic locations for college financial aid officers who then directed students to the lenders. Sallie Mae is the second lender to agree to the code, which is aimed at making the loan process more transparent. Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank, which does business at about 3,000 schools, last week agreed to donate $2 million to the same fund as part of a settlement with the attorney general's office.

Byrd sues on civil rights violations, Badlandsjournal.com, 7-28-07

Former D.A. added to civil rights lawsuit...Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13479083p-14088942c.html

A local criminal defense attorney who said he was the victim of a failed interagency drug sting last year has added former Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer to his civil lawsuit...is accused of working with a state agent and a Merced sheriff's deputy to have a man give lawyer John Garcia, 64, a bag of methamphetamine disguised as tobacco. Drug agents then got a judge to let them search Garcia and his office. No charges were filed in connection with the Feb. 6, 2006, undercover sting operation that Garcia said violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, damaged his reputation and caused him emotional distress. The lawsuit, refiled on April 5 to accuse Spencer, also names Taylor, Cardwood, the District Attorney's Office, Merced County and its sheriff's department, and the city of Merced and its police department. Garcia is seeking an unspecified amount of money in the Merced County Superior Court case that alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and a civil rights violation.

Modesto Bee
Realtors: Housing slump will worsen in 2007...Alan Zibel and Dan Caterinicchia, AP
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13479195p-14089041c.html

Key Senate Democrats issued a report Wednesday detailing the housing market's decline amid calls for federal aid to homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The report from New York Democrat Charles Schumer, chair of the Joint Economic Committee, came on the same day that the nation's trade group for Realtors offered new projections that the housing slump is worsening. The National Association of Realtors said the national median price for existing homes would decline this year for the first time since 1968 on the same day an activist nonprofit called on Wall Street to help homeowners restructure their mortgage loans. Across town, senators called for the government to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to help at-risk homeowners. NAR predicting the median price for existing homes nationwide will drop 0.7 percent...estimated existing home sales will fall 2.2 percent... As 1.8 million adjustable rate mortgages reset to higher rates this year and next, foreclosures are sure to continue rising, the 32-page report from the JEC said. The Federal Housing Administration could be revamped to refinance mortgages in danger of default, the JEC's report said... Lawmakers also are talking up proposals to strengthen federal regulation of mortgages, impose a national ban on predatory lending practices among all lenders and require those lenders to establish a borrower's ability to pay back a mortgage loan through the life of the loan, not just for two or three years. Rising delinquencies and defaults among borrowers have resulted in more than two dozen so-called subprime lenders going out of business, moving into bankruptcy protection or putting themselves up for sale.

Stockton Record
Water officials: Judge's ruling went overboard...Alex Breitler and Hank Shaw
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/A_NEWS/704120333

The Department of Water Resources filed its official response to a March 22 court ruling that, when finalized, could reduce water supplies for 25 million people from Livermore to Los Angeles. In a series of three dozen objections, the state reasserted its claim that older agreements allow it to kill threatened Delta smelt and salmon at the Banks Pumping Plant, even without an official permit under state law. Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow in a statement said Wednesday's court filing underscores a long-term strategy to restore the Delta while ensuring future water supplies. Bill Jennings, whose California Sportfishing Protection Alliance brought the lawsuit that culminated with Roesch's ruling, said the state was "refrying the egg." "They're trying to reopen the case," Jennings said. "The judge provided a brief period of time to comment on the proposed order, not to reargue the entire case." Among its objections, the state said the word "massive" used by the judge to describe the amount of water shipped south is inaccurate and subject to misinterpretation. And a reference to "significant" numbers of fish killed at the pumps is ambiguous and ignores the state's attempts to save fish and replace those that are killed. Snow's solution presented Monday was to ask the state Department of Fish and Game to determine that the pumps comply with state law, based on federal biological opinions. This "consistency determination" would be the quickest way to obey the judge's order, he said. Fish and Game has 30 days to make that determination. The 60-day pump shutdown clock, meanwhile, would begin ticking when Roesch issues his final ruling, Jennings said. Committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, asked the officials why they chose to ask for a consistency determination rather than go through the normal process. Broddrick said this way is far faster and will in effect mirror the rules the federal government relies on to operate its own set of giant water pumps in the area. Steinberg wanted to know why the state would rely on the federal rules. He asked Broddrick if those rules were in dispute. "They certainly are," Broddrick said, referring to an active lawsuit similar to the one that threatens the state pumps. "So how do we reconcile that one?" Steinberg asked. They cannot, Broddrick acknowledged. Essentially, the state is playing double-or-nothing: If the federal lawsuit invalidates the rules governing the federal pumps, and the state's "consistency determination" relies on those federal rules, then the courts could shut down both sets of pumps.

Good to the last drop...Steve Rubenstein
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/12/BAGDDP78EG1.DTL&hw=water&sn=007&sc=996
It must be serious...Rain and snow were so sporadic this winter that water could be scarce this summer. Water districts around the state have begun calling for "voluntary conservation... Unfortunately, many of the water-conservation tricks from past droughts will no longer work. Voluntary conservation is the official term for the step before mandatory conservation, also known as rationing. On Wednesday, San Francisco water officials warned that if things get dire over the summer, rationing is possible...

Reuters
Warming Could Spark N. American Water Scramble: U.N.
by Timothy Gardner
http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/12/477/

NEW YORK - Climate change could diminish North American water supplies and trigger disputes between the United States and Canada over water reserves already stressed by industry and agriculture, U.N. experts said on Wednesday.More heat waves like those that killed more than 100 people in the United States in 2006, storms like the killer hurricanes that struck the Gulf of Mexico in 2005 and wildfires are likely in North America as temperatures rise, according to a new report that provided regional details on a U.N. climate panel study on global warming issued in Brussels on April 6...

Washington Post
White House pulls nomination to top EPA air post...Chris Baltimore, Reuters
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/11/AR2007041101710.html

The White House on Wednesday withdrew its choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution office after he ran afoul of key U.S. lawmakers. William Wehrum, nominated to head the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, was the architect of rules to regulate harmful power plant emissions that environmental groups and many Democrats blasted as too lenient. The White House withdrew Wehrum's nomination, along with that of Alex Beehler, its pick to be the EPA's Inspector General, in a routine personnel announcement. Rather than face near-certain rejection from Boxer's committee, the White House withdrew the nominations.

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Appellate Court overturns Merced Superior Court CEQA decision: Jaxon Mine must do new EIR

Submitted: Apr 11, 2007

MERCED (April 11, 2007) – The Court of Appeal for the State of California, Fifth District, ruled Tuesday in favor of a petition brought by San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and Le Grand Community Association against the Merced County Board of Supervisors and Jaxon Enterprises. In 2004, the County supervisors approved a badly flawed environmental impact report and conditional use permit for Jaxon Enterprises Mine near Le Grand to expand its mining operations. The appellate court ruling overturns the decision of the Merced County Superior Court in favor of Jaxon and Merced County.

The ruling means that Jaxon must complete a new EIR and conditional use permit for its expansion project on White Rock Road.

The appellate court ruled that Jaxon’s EIR, the board of supervisor’s approval of it, and the trial court’s decision violated the California Environmental Quality Act, which governs the preparation of EIRs, in four parts of the Act. The higher court published its rulings on the four parts, making them available for citation as case-law precedents for future litigation under CEQA.

The four published rulings under CEQA in which the appellate court agreed with the Raptor Center et al and disagreed with Jaxon and Merced County are:

· CEQA standard of review
· Project description and environmental setting
· Specific environmental impacts and mitigation measures
· Prejudice (abuse of discretion by the Merced County Board of Supervisors).

Jaxon Enterprises indemnified Merced County for legal expenses incurred in defending its approval of the EIR. Therefore, the County suffers no economic consequences for producing a published decision providing statewide case-law precedents for challenging land-use authorities’ abuse of discretion. This is the third case brought by the Raptor Center, Protect Our Water, and others in recent years that has produced published case law arising from decisions made by the Merced County Board of Supervisors that the appellate court has ruled violate CEQA.

“CEQA attorneys throughout California are using the precedents from this appellate court’s decisions against Merced County,” Lydia Miller, president of San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center said. “The Merced system, where special interests pay for the legal costs of defending fatally flawed EIRs, is getting a statewide reputation for producing good case law from the Merced County supervisors’ habit of approving bad projects.

“Marsha Burch, of the law offices of Don Mooney, wrote and argued brilliantly in this case for the natural resources and public health and safety in Merced County,” Miller added.

Below find the portions of the appellate court opinion that have been published -- editors)

For further information contact:

Lydia Miller
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
(209) 723-9283

DONALD B. MOONEY
MARSHA BURCH
Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney
Davis CA 95616
(530) 758-2377

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
----------------

From: Opinion, Certified for Partial Publication, Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fifth Appellate District: San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center et al v. County of Merced et al, FO 50232 (Super. Ct. No. 148238), filed 4/10/07:

I. CEQA Standard of Review
“In reviewing challenges to the certification of an EIR or approval of a CUP, the court must determine whether the lead agency abused its discretion by failing to proceed in a manner required by law or by making a determination or decision that is not supported by substantial evidence.” (Association of Irritated Residents v. County of Madera (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 1383, 1390 (Irritated Residents); § 21168.5.) “Courts are ‘not to determine whether the EIR’s ultimate conclusions are correct but only whether they are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the EIR is sufficient as an information document.’ [Citations.]” (Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control v. City of Bakersfield (2004) 124 Cal.App.4th 1184, 1197 (Bakersfield Citizens).) “Provided the EIR complies with CEQA, the [b]oard may approve the project even if it would create significant and unmitigable impacts on the environment.”

(Irritated Residents, supra, 107 Cal.App.4th at p. 1390.) The appellate court reviews the administrative record independently; the trial court’s conclusions are not binding on it. (Ibid.)

“An appellate court’s review of the administrative record for legal error and substantial evidence in a CEQA case, as in other mandamus cases, is the same as the trial court’s: the appellate court reviews the agency’s action, not the trial court’s decision; in that sense appellate judicial review is de novo. [Citations.] We therefore resolve the substantive CEQA issues on which we granted review by independently determining whether the administrative record demonstrates any legal error by the County and whether it contains substantial evidence to support the County’s factual determinations.” (Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. v. City of Rancho Cordova (2007) 40 Cal.4th 412, 427.)

“An EIR must include detail sufficient to enable those who did not participate in its preparation to understand and to consider meaningfully the issues raised by the proposed project.” (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California (1988) 47 Cal.3d 376, 405.) “When assessing the legal sufficiency of an EIR, the reviewing court focuses on adequacy, completeness and good faith effort at full disclosure.” (Irritated Residents, supra, 107 Cal.App.4th at p. 1390.) Although CEQA “requires an EIR to reflect a good faith effort at full disclosure; it does not mandate
perfection, nor does it require an analysis to be exhaustive.” (Dry Creek Citizens Coalition v. County of Tulare (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 20, 26.) Therefore, noncompliance with CEQA’s information disclosure requirements is not necessarily reversible; prejudice must be shown. (Bakersfield Citizens, supra, 124 Cal.App.4th at p. 1197-1198; § 21005, subd. (b).) “[A] prejudicial abuse of discretion occurs if the failure to include relevant information precludes informed decisionmaking and informed public participation, thereby thwarting the goals of the EIR process.” (Irritated Residents, supra, 107 Cal.App.4th at p. 1391.) In such event, the error is deemed prejudicial
“regardless whether a different outcome would have resulted if the public agency had complied with the disclosure requirements.” (Bakersfield Citizens, supra, 124 Cal.App.4th at p. 1198.)

“The substantial evidence standard is applied to conclusions, findings and determinations. It also applies to challenges to the scope of an EIR’s analysis of a topic, the methodology used for studying an impact and the reliability or accuracy of the data upon which the EIR relied because these types of challenges involve factual questions.” (Bakersfield Citizens, supra, 124 Cal.App.4th at p. 1198.) Substantial evidence is defined in the CEQA Guidelines as “enough relevant information and reasonable inferences from this information that a fair argument can be made to support a conclusion, even though other conclusions might also be reached.” (Guidelines, §
15384, subd. (a).) Substantial evidence includes facts, reasonable assumptions
predicated upon facts, and expert opinion supported by facts. (§ 21082.2, subd. (c); Guidelines, § 15384, subd. (b).) It does not include argument, speculation, unsubstantiated opinion or narrative, evidence which is clearly inaccurate or erroneous, or evidence of social or economic impacts which do not contribute to, or are not caused by, physical impacts on the environment. (§ 21082.2, subd. (c).)

II. Project Description and Environmental Setting

A. Project Description

Petitioners challenge the adequacy of the Project description. Under CEQA, a “project” means “the whole of an action, which has a potential for resulting in either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment....” (Guidelines, § 15378, subd. (a) [emphasis added]; see also § 21065.) It refers to the underlying “activity” for which approval is being sought. (Guidelines, § 15378, subd. (c).) The entirety of the project must be described, and not some smaller portion of it. (Santiago County Water District v. County of Orange (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 818, 829-831 [EIR for mining operation failed to include extension of water facilities, obscuring from view an important aspect of the project].) The Guidelines specify that every EIR must set forth a project description
that is sufficient to allow an adequate evaluation and review of the environmental impact. (Guidelines, § 15124.) Among other things, a project description must include a clear statement of “the objectives sought by the proposed project,” which will help the Lead Agency “develop a reasonable range of alternatives to evaluate in the EIR and will aid the decision makers in preparing findings or a statement of overriding considerations, if necessary.” (Guidelines, § 15124, subd. (b).) The description must also include “[a] general description of the project’s technical, economic, and environmental characteristics, considering the principal engineering proposals if any and supporting public service facilities.” (Guidelines, § 15124, subd. (c).)

“[A]n accurate, stable and finite project description is the sine qua non of an informative and legally sufficient EIR.” (County of Inyo v. City of Los Angeles (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 185, 199.) However, “[a] curtailed, enigmatic or unstable project description draws a red herring across the path of public input.” (Id. at p. 197-198.) “[O]nly through an accurate view of the project may the public and interested parties and public agencies balance the proposed project’s benefits against its environmental cost, consider appropriate mitigation measures, assess the advantages of terminating the proposal and properly weigh other alternatives.” (City of Santee v. County of San Diego (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 1438, 1454.)

The Petitioners primarily argue that the Project description set forth in the DEIR is unstable and misleading because it indicates, on the one hand, that no increases in mine production are being sought, while on the other hand, it provides for substantial increases in mine production if the Project is approved. We agree.

As noted, the DEIR represents that the Project will expand the available acreage and allow for nighttime operations, but will not significantly increase annual production. It states: “The expansion includes the mining of additional acreage, but is not proposed to substantially increase daily or annual production.” (Emphasis added.) To highlight its “no increase” position, the DEIR reports that average production over the past four years was 240,000 tons per year, and indicates the Project will provide for an additional 30 years of mining at an estimated average production of about 260,000 tons per year. In contrast to these numbers, however, the proposed CUP would allow for annual mine production of 550,000 tons per year , which is more than double the production average over the prior four years. In other words, despite assurances to the contrary, the Project includes a substantial increase in mine production.

Although the DEIR does also indicate that Jaxon’s mine would have a peak capacity of 550,000 tons per year (as mined) or 500,000 tons per year (as marketed), such statements were entirely inconsistent with the assurances elsewhere that there would be no increase in production. By giving such conflicting signals to decisionmakers and the public about the nature and scope of the activity being proposed, the Project description was fundamentally inadequate and misleading.

Moreover, it is clear that this curtailed or shifting project description
affected the EIR process. That is, much of the analysis assumes there will be
production levels of only 260,000 tons per year. For example, in the traffic impact section of the DEIR, the discussion of long-term structural road impacts addressed only the effect of 260,000 tons per year, with no discussion of the impact of higher production levels. In the FEIR, one of the responses to comments indicates a comparison was being made between 260,000 tons per year and 240,000 tons per year, suggesting that only a slight increase in production was being considered. (See FEIR, section 4.2, response to 6-13). Additionally, both the DEIR and FEIR state there will be no increase in groundwater pumping or consumptive water usage between the current operations and the proposed Project. However, it is not explained how there could be a major production increase to 550,000 tons per year without any increase in consumptive water usage. (See FEIR, section 4.1, responses to 2-8; and DEIR, section 3.3.) It appears that the underlying assumption in the water analysis, and throughout much of the EIR, is that the Project does not provide for substantial increases in annual mine production from prior levels.

These curtailed and inadequate characterizations of the Project were enough to mislead the public and thwart the EIR process. As noted in County of Inyo v. City of Los Angeles, supra, 71 Cal.App.3d 185, when an EIR contains unstable or shifting descriptions of the project, meaningful public participation is stultified. “A curtailed, enigmatic or unstable project description draws a red herring across the path of public input.” (Id. at p. 197-198 [holding that although the “ill-conceived, initial project description” did not carry over into impacts section of EIR, the shifting description did “vitiate the city’s EIR process as a vehicle for intelligent public participation”].)

The public hearings reflect similar confusion about the level of production allowed under the Project. Before the Board of Supervisors, the Project applicant made the following assurances: “We’re not talking about producing more material than we’re producing now. … Our quantity that we’re asking to be permitted to mine is the same as we’ve been permitted to mine in the past.” Similarly, Mr. Steubing of Resource Design Technology, Inc., the consulting firm assisting in the EIR preparation, testified that “there’s no additional operations. It’s just existing baseline.” Mr. Steubing had previously informed the planning commission that “there’s nothing new from existing
conditions.” He even indicated regarding Jaxon’s mine that “[t]hey are permitted to mine up to 550,000 tons a year.” This later statement conflicts with the FEIR’s response to comments, in which the County reported the existing permit would allow 240,000 tons per year.

In City of Santee v. County of San Diego, supra, 214 Cal.App.3d 1438, the Court of Appeal rejected an EIR for inconsistencies in the project description. In that case, the EIR evaluated a prison project using variable figures to determine the duration of the temporary facility -- i.e., from three years to seven years to an indefinite length. Concluding that the EIR did not contain an accurate, stable and finite project description, the court held that the EIR could not “adequately apprise all interested parties of the true scope of the project for intelligent weighing of the environmental consequences.” (Id. at pp. 1454-1455.) The same is true in the present case. The inconsistent description, which portrayed the Project as having “no increase” in mine
production while at the same time allowing for substantial increases above recent historical averages, failed to adequately apprise all interested parties of the true scope and magnitude of the Project. For this reason, we conclude that the EIR in this case was insufficient as an informational document for purposes of CEQA, amounting to a prejudicial abuse of discretion.

Because the failure to provide a stable and consistent project description amounted to a prejudicial abuse of discretion, we conclude that the Board’s approval of CUP 99009 and its certification of the EIR were invalid and must be set aside. In the event that CUP 99009 is pursued further, we hold that a new EIR will have to be prepared and circulated, in order to clearly specify in the project description that the project includes and allows significantly increased production (over recent annual averages) up to a peak level of 550,000 tons per year.

B. Baseline Environmental Setting

Petitioners also contend that the EIR failed to adequately describe the existing environmental setting. “Before the impacts of a project can be assessed and mitigation measures considered, an EIR must describe the existing environment. It is only against this baseline that any significant environmental effects can be determined.” (County of Amador v. El Dorado County Water Agency (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 931, 952.) The Guidelines state that an EIR must include a description of “the physical environmental conditions in the vicinity of the project,” which constitute the “baseline physical conditions” for measuring environmental impacts. (Guidelines, § 15125, subd. (a).)

Although the baseline environmental setting must be premised on realized physical conditions on the ground, as opposed to merely hypothetical conditions allowable under existing plans (see Christward Ministry v. Superior Court (1986) 184 Cal.App.3d 180, 186-187 [general plan amendment]; City of Carmel-by-the-Sea v. Board of Supervisors (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 229, 246-247 [rezoning]), established levels of a particular use have been considered to be part of an existing environmental setting. (See Fat v. County of Sacramento (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 1270, 1274, 1278 [existing airport operations]; Fairview Neighbors v. County of Ventura (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 238, 242 [established traffic levels from mine operations]; Lighthouse Field Beach Rescue v. City of Santa Cruz (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 1170 1196.) “Environmental conditions may vary from year to year and in some cases it is necessary to consider conditions over a range of time periods.” (Save Our Peninsula Committee v. Monterey Bay County Board of Supervisors (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 99, 125).

In Fairview Neighbors v. County of Ventura, the court allowed traffic numbers occurring when the mine operated at peak capacity pursuant to the prior CUP to be the “baseline,” since mine operations were widely variable depending on market factors. The peak capacity (over 810 truck trips) was actually achieved in years prior, so it was not a mere hypothetical situation. The court rejected the appellant’s claim that actual existing traffic numbers (at the time of the EIR) had to be used. (Fairview Neighbors v. County of Ventura (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th at pp. 242-243.) Thus, in the situation of an existing mine operation, a description of baseline environmental setting may reasonably include the mine’s established levels of permitted use.

In the instant case, the respondents claim to have used a four-year average of mine operations (i.e., 240,000 tons per year) as the baseline of the existing mine operations at the 90-acre site. Conversely, the Petitioners contend that a more accurate baseline would be 100,000 tons per year, because (according to petitioners) only 100,000 tons per year was permitted to be mined under the prior CUP (No. 3603). We agree with respondents that there is nothing in the administrative record to support the Petitioner’s contention that there was a 100,000 tons per year restriction under the
prior permit. In fact, CUP 3603 was not part of the administrative record below, and when respondents attempted to introduce CUP 3603 into the record in order to remove any doubt, the Petitioners objected.

Since established usage of the property may be considered to be part of the environmental setting (Fairview Neighbors, supra, 70 Cal.App.4th 238), and such usage was adequately shown by the annual production averages, we believe there is substantial evidence in the record to support the County’s use of 240,000 tons per year as a baseline for existing conditions on the 90-acre site.

The real problem, however, is that the EIR does not clearly identify the baseline assumptions regarding mine operations in its description of the existing environmental setting. In the introductory section of the DEIR a generalized statement is made that “existing conditions” include “the currently permitted extraction of aggregate materials” and processing activities, but the existing conditions are not defined or quantified. And although the four-year production average of 240,000 was apparently used in the impacts section(s) of the EIR, nowhere is that fact plainly stated. Such an omission clearly falls short of the requirement of a good faith effort at full disclosure. (Guidelines, § 15151.) The decisionmakers and general public should not be forced to sift through obscure minutiae or appendices in order to ferret out the fundamental baseline assumptions that are being used for purposes of the environmental analysis. “An EIR must include detail sufficient to enable those who did
not participate in its preparation to understand and to consider meaningfully the issues raised by the proposed project.” (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California (1988) 47 Cal.3d 376, 405.) “The data in an EIR must not only be sufficient in quantity, it must be presented in a manner calculated to adequately inform the public and decision makers, who may not be previously familiar with the details of the project.” (Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. v. City of Rancho Cordova (2007) 40 Cal.4th 412, 442.)

This failure to clearly and conspicuously identify the baseline assumptions for purposes of describing the existing environmental setting further degraded the usefulness of the EIR and contributed to its inadequacy as an informational document. Accordingly, we hold that in any new EIR prepared in connection with this proposed Project, the baseline must not be obscured, but must be plainly identified in the EIR.

III. Specific Environmental Impacts and Mitigation Measures

Next, Petitioners have argued that the EIR failed to adequately analyze impacts on water, traffic, air quality and biological resources.

“The fundamental purpose of an EIR is ‘to provide public agencies and the public in general with detailed information about the effect which a proposed project is likely to have on the environment.’ (§ 21061.)” (Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. v. City of Rancho Cordova, supra, 40 Cal.4th 412, 428.) Thus, an EIR must adequately identify and analyze the significant environmental effects of the proposed project. (§ 21100, subd. (b); Guidelines, § 15126.2, subd. (a).) In assessing the impact of a proposed project on the environment, the lead agency normally examines the “changes” in existing environmental conditions in the affected area that would occur if
the proposed activity is implemented. (Guidelines, § 15126.2, subd. (a); and see, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. City of Turlock (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 273, 289.) “Direct and indirect significant effects of the project on the environment shall be clearly identified and described, giving due consideration to both the short-term and long-term effects.” (Guidelines, § 15126.2, subd. (a).) The degree of detailed analysis necessary in an EIR is summarized in the Guidelines as follows: “An EIR should be prepared with a sufficient degree of analysis to provide decisionmakers with information which enables them to make a decision which intelligently takes account of environmental consequences. An evaluation of the environmental effects of a proposed project need not be exhaustive, but the sufficiency of an EIR is to be reviewed in the light of what is
reasonably feasible. ... The courts have looked not for perfection but for adequacy, completeness, and a good faith effort at full disclosure.” (Guidelines, § 15151.)

As a preliminary matter, we agree with Petitioners that it was necessary in this case for the EIR to include some analysis of the impacts that would result from peak levels of production. Peak mine operations of 550,000 tons per year was an aspect of the Project itself, as well as a reasonably foreseeable use, and thus the environmental effects thereof clearly had to be analyzed in the EIR. (See Christward Ministry v. Superior Court, supra, 184 Cal.App.3d at p. 194 [EIR must analyze entire development that is allowed by project’s approval]; Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 396-399 [reasonably foreseeable future activity must be described and analyzed in EIR].) Consequently, one aspect of the analysis of environmental impacts that had to be considered in the EIR was the effect on the existing environmental conditions of substantial increases in annual mine production above baseline levels, including consideration of the reasonable potential of mine
operations at peak levels of operation.

We now turn to the adequacy of the EIR’s analysis of particular impacts.

A. Impact of the Project on Water

It is claimed by Petitioners that the EIR fails to adequately analyze impacts of the Project to groundwater supplies and surface water quality. We will begin with the discussion of groundwater impacts.

1. Groundwater

The EIR outlines that water used during mining and processing is “currently (and will continue to be) a combination of accumulated rainwater in the bottom of the excavation areas, flows from the perched groundwater table in the near-surface alluvium, and an on-site well.” Overall water used for the Project is estimated as follows: “Although total Project water usage is about 500 gallons per minute (gpm), 10 hours per day (on average) most of this water is continuously recycled through the ponds and processing system. Make-up water comes from the on-site well .… In the summer months, the groundwater inflows to the excavation cease and the well becomes the principle source of make-up water. The maximum consumptive use of pumped water occurs from July through September.” Annual consumptive water use is estimated as follows:

“Based on information provided by the Applicant, current consumptive water use involves groundwater pumping at the rate of about 100 gpm for 10 hours per day, two days per week from July through September. Spread over a five-day work week, this consumptive water usage amounts to about 24,000 gallons per day, or approximately 2.2 acre-feet per month. There are no records of consumptive use or data on well production at other times of the year from which to derive the annual consumptive use in acre-feet
per year; however, it can be estimated assuming consumptive use is proportional to the monthly climatic deficit (evaportranspiration [Eto] minus precipitation). By this method, the annual consumptive use is estimated to be 13.1 acre-feet per year (see calculation sheet in Appendix G-2, Estimated Consumptive Use by Month.)”

The EIR then concludes that “[n]o increase in consumptive water use is anticipated as a result of the mine expansion.” The rationale provided for this conclusion is that when nighttime operations occur, rates of water usage would not increase because “nighttime operations would simply replace the usual daytime operations.” Also, in the case of 24-hour operations for specific road or emergency projects, “the only processing equipment to operate longer-than-normal hours would be the asphaltic batch plant, which uses no water.” Process water usage “is associated entirely with crushing operations.”

The EIR then addresses, under Impact 3.3-2, the concern that the Project may have a potential impact to deep groundwater supplies and could result in an increase in groundwater pumping during summer months, a time when existing groundwater is also under high demand from neighboring wells. The EIR notes that known deep groundwater occurs in a five-foot thick zone of sand layered between impermeable clay sediments at a depth of over 200 feet below ground surface. Although this aquifer is said to be “poorly characterized,” its “storage capacity and interconnections to aquifer(s) tapped by neighboring wells are unknown although it is apparent that the existing operation and neighboring uses have coexisted in a sustainable fashion for some time.” Thus, EIR concludes, “it can be assumed that pumping demand is less than or equal to recharge.” For purposes of this conclusion, “the existing operation, including its current groundwater use, is considered part of the baseline condition for this analysis.” The EIR acknowledges that well pumping is not metered, so the existing water extraction rate is based on estimates provided by the applicant.

The EIR notes than an increase in overall pumping rates and quantities could cause groundwater levels in neighboring wells to be adversely affected. However, the EIR reasons that because crushing activities would not occur at night, any increase in the hours of operation would not increase water usage. Thus, “water consumption is anticipated to remain at the current level.”

Finally, the EIR concedes there is potential for stress on the deep aquifer during the summer months when agricultural pumping is also at a maximum. Allegedly, this would not be a “project-related change, but rather an ongoing condition.” Further, the EIR notes that the aquifer has not been depleted so far, and has apparently recharged from year to year. “In general, a thin aquifer that is temporarily depressurized from short periods of high rates of pumping will typically recover when pumping ceases, so long as overall withdrawals balance with aquifer recharge.” The EIR assumes that will continue to be the case here “given the historical sustainability of
the deep groundwater supply.”

However, the EIR recognizes that any increase in consumptive Project water usage “could affect the ability of the deep groundwater aquifer to sustain other existing consumptive uses,” which is a potentially significant impact. Therefore, as a mitigation measure, it was required that the applicant “[m]aintain the current Project consumptive use (estimated by the Applicant as pumping 20 hours/week at 100 gpm or less from July through September.)” (Emphasis omitted.)

Petitioners contend that the analysis of groundwater impact is inadequate because it fails to take into account and analyze the impact of substantially increased levels of production at the mine. We fully agree. The conclusion in the EIR that water consumption will remain at current baseline levels, even after production is dramatically increased to 550,000 tons per year, is not supported by substantial evidence or reasoned analysis. Moreover, the EIR’s analysis fails to show any correlation between the amount of water used and the level of production, and fails to identify how much groundwater would be used during baseline operations (i.e., 240,000
tons per year) in comparison to how much groundwater would be used during peak operations (i.e., 550,000 tons per year). Without such information, the impact of the project on groundwater supplies cannot be fully or accurately evaluated.

A figure is put forward in the EIR as an estimate of consumptive use of groundwater--i.e., 2.2 acre-feet per month in July-September or approximately 13.1 acre?feet per year. The estimate is apparently based on rates of groundwater pumping observed in July through September. We conclude this information, without more, was inadequate to inform the public and decisionmakers regarding groundwater impacts. It is entirely unclear what these numbers actually represent for purposes of meaningfully evaluating the impact of the Project. As already noted, it is not shown whether the
estimate of groundwater use per year is based on peak production, baseline production, or something else. If it represents baseline production levels, what additional consumptive water use would likely occur during peak production, and in particular, how much additional groundwater would be needed to support the Project at that higher level of production? And what would be the impact of such increased groundwater pumping (when operating at peak production) on other water users who rely on the aquifer, including in
dry rainfall years? Without such information, the true impact of the project on
groundwater supplies cannot be adequately evaluated. The EIR must include “facts to ‘evaluate the pros and cons of supplying the amount of water that the [project] will need.’” (Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. v. City of Rancho Cordova, supra, 40 Cal.4th at p. 431; Santiago County Water Dist. v. County of Orange, supra, 118 Cal.App.3d at p. 829 [EIR inadequate where impact of supplying water to mine not adequately analyzed].) Such facts have not been provided here.

Finally, although the EIR included as a mitigation measure that the Project must “maintain the current Project consumptive use (estimated by the Applicant as pumping 20 hours/week at 100 gpm or less from July through September)” (emphasis omitted), a mitigation measure cannot be used as a device to avoid disclosing project impacts. (Stanislaus Natural Heritage Project v. County of Stanislaus (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 182, 195-197.) An EIR must analyze the impacts of providing water to the entire proposed project (id. at p. 206), which in this case includes peak production of 550,000 tons per
year. Since maximum production levels (approximately double the baseline) are specifically authorized by the proposed CUP, the EIR should disclose how much groundwater pumping would be needed to support such operations and analyze the impacts thereof. Under the circumstances, CEQA does not allow the EIR to simply assume, without substantial evidence or reasoned analysis, that the same amount of consumptive water will be used at maximum production as is currently being used.

For all the reasons stated above, we conclude that the EIR failed to adequately analyze the impact of the Project on groundwater supplies.

2. Surface Water

Petitioners contend that the EIR fails to adequately analyze impacts to surface water as a result of the Project’s wastewater discharges. We agree. The EIR describes the mine operation as a “zero-discharge facility.” It provides that the Project’s conformance with the California Water Resource Control Board’s Storm Water program will “result in the settlement of all accumulated runoff from operations in the on-site retention ponds,” from which ponds the waste water will be continuously reused in mine operations. The EIR details the surface water hydrology, including the ponding system which will protect against run-off of waste water. Impacts and mitigation measures regarding waste discharge are described. However, it appears that only baseline
production levels were considered. There is no analysis of the impact on surface water quality, including impacts from wastewater discharge, of significantly increased mine production. As with the analysis of groundwater impacts, the EIR’s discussion of surface water quality was deficient because it failed to identify and analyze the impact (if any) of peak mine production.

B. Impact of the Project on Traffic

Petitioners also contend the EIR failed to adequately analyze traffic impacts of the Project. Increased production at the mine would logically mean an increase in the number and frequency of the heavy 25-ton-capacity trucks traversing over the available roads used as haul routes. Petitioners primarily argue the EIR failed to adequately consider the impact upon traffic and road conditions of the mine’s peak production rate of 550,000 tons per year, as authorized under the Project.

In discussing traffic impacts, the EIR considered annual traffic volumes generated by the Project based on the assumption of estimated average production of 260,000 tons per year, or 20,800 total truck trips (10,400 entering and 10,400 exiting). These numbers were used in evaluating the annual distribution of Project traffic on roads using the likely haul routes. As explained in the FEIR, an accepted methodology used by the California Department of Transportation to evaluate traffic index and design of pavement structural sections is to utilize average annual traffic volumes. The FEIR
found it unnecessary to consider higher volumes of traffic, stating that “worst case” annual production levels would not occur every year.

This estimated annual average (i.e., 260,000 tons per year) was used in the analysis of the traffic index. The traffic index is a measure of equivalent single axle loads expected over the design period, and is apparently used to evaluate whether the Project could physically degrade the County roadways. Because of expected wear of Project-related truck traffic on sections of Le Grand Road and White Rock Road, the impacts to these roads would be potentially significant. Consequently, as a mitigation measure the applicant (Jaxon) was required to reconstruct portions of Le Grand Road and White Rock Road to a performance standard of 8.5 on the design traffic index, in order
to mitigate the impacts to the pavement structural section. (DEIR, Mitigation Measure 3.5-2a.)

Petitioners argue that in showing impacts from annual distribution of
Project-related traffic on affected roads, the EIR should have used truck volumes based on maximum annual production of 550,000 tons per year. We note the purpose of this particular analysis in the EIR was to evaluate impacts to the road physical structures over long periods of time (i.e., 20 years) based on estimated annual truck volumes. (See FEIR, Response 6-37.) That being the case, it was not improper in this instance for the EIR to consider an estimated average annual production of 260,000 tons, as one aspect of the analysis. However, that does not mean the analysis was complete, or that more was not required, under the unique circumstance here of huge variation in the
Project description. In light of the widely-shifting Project description in this case, which includes production levels as high as 550,000 tons per year, we hold that some analysis should have been made of long-term impacts on road physical structures based on the reasonable potential of greater frequency or regularity of annual mine operations at or near the maximum production level of 550,000 tons per year. Since this was not done, we agree with the Petitioners that the EIR was inadequate in analyzing this impact.

In other aspects of the analysis, the EIR did consider traffic volumes that would correspond to maximum production levels. In analyzing peak traffic issues, the EIR used the mine’s maximum capacity per day of 5,000 tons of material. Hypothetically, if production were maintained at that daily level throughout the year, it would substantially exceed the Project’s maximum of 550,000 tons per year. As explained in the FEIR, the number was used in the intersection analysis of peak traffic as a “worse case scenario” which would be expected to occur few times, if any, during the life of the Project. By contrast, an average production day was estimated as only 1,000 tons of material.

In regard to said peak traffic analysis, petitioners attack the assumption in the EIR that Project trucks would be evenly spaced throughout the eight-hour work day -- i.e., exactly 24 trucks entering the site empty per hour, and exactly 24 trucks leaving the site full per hour. According to petitioners, this assumption would possibly lead to underestimating potential impacts to traffic congestion during peak traffic hours. We reject petitioners’ argument. The EIR appears to have merely divided the daily truck volume to obtain a per hour average over the course of the work day. Petitioners offer
no reason why this would be an unreasonable methodology in this case. Their argument is essentially that greater specificity was needed -- i.e., that the EIR should have specified whether trucks sometimes enter and leave the site “unevenly” over time. We hold that such minute detail was not required in the analysis in question. The information provided was sufficiently detailed to allow reasoned analysis of the relevant impacts on peak traffic. It was not necessary that the analysis be so exhaustively detailed as to include every conceivable study or permutation of the data. (See Guidelines, § 15151 [information need not be exhaustive]; and Irritated Residents, supra, 107 Cal.App.4th at p. 1396 [“CEQA does not require a lead agency to conduct
every recommended test and perform all recommended research to evaluate the impacts of a proposed project”].)

As summarized by respondents, the petitioners have basically reiterated certain objections set forth in a study conducted by a consultant (Mr. Brohard) of LASER, a group opposed to the project. This includes additional contentions regarding methodology, such as that Project trip generation should have been spread over a 270-day period, rather than 365 days, and that the month of September should not have been used to conduct traffic counts to determine existing traffic volumes. In each instance, the
petitioners have failed to establish any showing that the County acted improperly in relying on the independent traffic study in the DEIR, and on the responses in the FEIR, rather than on Mr. Brohard’s study, in determining whether the EIR adequately addressed traffic impacts. As this court has explained: “When experts in a subject areas dispute the conclusions researched by other experts whose studies were used in drafting the EIR,
the EIR need only summarize the main points of disagreement and explain the agency’s reasons for accepting one set of judgments instead of another.” (Irritated Residents, supra, 107 Cal.App.4th at p. 1391.)

To summarize, we conclude that the traffic impacts were not adequately analyzed in the EIR with respect to road structural impacts over time (including traffic index based on annual traffic volumes), due to the shifting and confusing Project description, thereby causing the EIR to fail in its role as an informational document. However, in all other respects the traffic analysis was adequate.

C. Impacts of Project on Air Quality

Petitioners argue that the EIR failed to adequately analyze the impact of the Project on air quality. For the reasons noted below, we find the petitioners’ argument to be without merit.

The DEIR contained a detailed and independent air quality analysis utilizing standards of significance established in the CEQA Guidelines. It described the existing environment and air basin, and analyzed potential impacts of the Project on air quality related to emissions (including pollutants), particulate matter, dust and odors. The air quality analysis was subjected to extensive comments, including claimed computational errors by LASER’s air quality consultant (Petra Pless), which were responded to in detail in the FEIR.

However, in response to comments that the DEIR failed to adequately address air quality impacts of maximum production of the mine under the Project, the FEIR provided an “Errata” which included a revised air quality section with specific analysis of the impacts on air quality of mine production of 550,000 tons per annum. The DEIR had only analyzed air quality impacts based on the projected average production of 260,000 tons
per year. Although the quantity of some emissions was higher in the Errata than originally set forth in the DEIR, the level of each individual and cumulative emission category remained below San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District thresholds of significance. Thus, even at the maximum production levels, the FEIR concluded potential impact of the Project on air quality remained less than significant.

Petitioners argue that the revised air quality analysis set forth in the Errata should have been recirculated. We disagree. Because both the analysis in the DEIR and the Errata in the FEIR show the air quality impact to be less than significant, we agree with respondents that the standards for recirculation set forth at CEQA Guidelines section 15088.5 were not triggered. As the FEIR explains: “None of the changes provided in section 3.2 of this Final EIR contain significant new information that deprives the public of a meaningful opportunity to comment upon a substantial adverse environmental effect of the Project on a feasible way to mitigate or avoid such an effect.”

D. Impact of the Project on Biological Resources

Petitioners next attack the adequacy of analysis in the EIR of impacts on biological resources and wildlife habitat. In particular, the discussion of vernal pools and burrowing owl habitats is challenged.

The EIR describes the presence of vernal pools and ephemerally wet drainage swales within certain areas of the Project site and vicinity. After identifying the potential impacts of the Project, it spells out a number of mitigation measures to prevent or minimize such impacts. The thrust of petitioners’ objections concern the adequacy of these mitigation measures. As discussed below, we find that the mitigation measures -- although adequate in other respects -- improperly defer formulation of significant aspects of mitigation, and therefore fail to comply with CEQA’s informational requirements.

Numerous mitigation measures are specified in the EIR regarding the vernal pools and special-status species that are expressly presumed to exist there. To begin with, the vernal pools and swales would remain outside the limits of mining. The Project footprint would maintain a minimum 25-foot setback from the nearest vernal pools and ephemerally wet drainage swales. According to the analysis in the EIR, this 25-foot setback “should be adequate to maintain the hydrological integrity of these potentially important habitat types once Mitigation Measure 3.3-3 (installation of a cut-off trench) is implemented.” To prevent potentially significant impacts on vernal pools if erosion or sediments from the mine area reached the vernal pools, various erosion controls and monitoring measures are required as further mitigation measures. Preconstruction mitigation measures are also specified to allow mobile animal species to vacate the excavation areas prior to mining. Finally, although the initial reconnaissance or field survey did not detect the presence of certain special-status species in the area of the vernal pools, the EIR presumes that such species are present, and therefore imposes an additional 300-foot buffer. Protocol-level surveys will be conducted prior to any
mining activity within 300-feet of vernal pool/swale areas. No mining activity within the 300?foot buffer would occur until specified conditions are met, namely (a) a protocol survey is conducted showing the absence of such species or (b) implementation of a Management Plan developed by a qualified biologist in consultation with appropriate jurisdictional agencies including California Department of Fish & Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (See DEIR, Mitigation Measures 3.6-1a-c, 3.6-2a-d, 3.6-3a-c, 3.6-4a-b and 3.6.6a-b.)

As indicated by the above summary, the EIR allows some specifics of the overall mitigation effort to be developed in response to future protocol studies, prior to allowing phases of mining within the 300-foot setback. For example, under mitigation measure 3.6-3b, if the required spring season protocol survey shows existence of special-status plant species within or adjacent to the vernal pools, a Management Plan must be prepared by a qualified biologist to “maintain the integrity and mosaic of the vernal pool habitat.” The plan will likely include such options as periodic mowing,
rotational grazing, and weed abatement, as indicated in the EIR, and would require the concurrence of applicable regulatory agencies, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Game. It is only after such a Management Plan is developed and implemented that Jaxon could apply to the County for modification of the 300-foot buffer, leaving only the 25-foot setback. A similar approach would be used if special-status plant species are observed in the study of the grassland areas.

The Petitioners argue that because the mitigation measures allow for future formulation of land management aspects of the mitigation measures, the EIR impermissibly defers the development of important mitigation measures until after project approval. CEQA Guidelines, section 15126.4, subdivision (a)(1)(B) specifies as follows: “Formulation of mitigation measures should not be deferred until some future time. However, measures may specify performance standards which would mitigate the significant effect of the project and which may be accomplished in more than one specified way.” According to Petitioners, to allow land management plans to be developed later fails to
adequately inform the public and decisionmakers, prior to project approval, of the nature and efficacy of the proposed mitigation measures that will be undertaken. (See Sundstrom v. County of Mendocino (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 296, 307.)

The respondents counter that this is not a deferral of mitigation. To the extent that some aspects of mitigation may be developed in subsequent management plans, it is (according to respondents) merely an example of using performance standards or criteria as expressly permitted under section 15126.4. (Guidelines, § 15126.4, subd. (a)(1)(B); and Sacramento Old City Assn. v. City Council of Sacramento (1991) 229 Cal.App.3d 1011, 1028-1029 [court upheld EIR that set forth a range of mitigation measures to offset severe traffic impacts where performance criteria would have to be met, even though some further study was needed and EIR did not specify which measures had to be adopted by
city].)

On balance, we find that respondent’s position is unpersuasive. Although a generalized goal of maintaining the integrity of vernal pool habitats is stated (see mitigation measure 3.6-3b), no specific criteria or standard of performance is committed to in the EIR. Nor does the EIR present several alternative mitigation measures, in which a selection of one or more of the described options is to be made after further study. Rather, after first presuming that special-status species will be present in or near the vernal pools, the EIR leaves the reader in the dark about what land management
steps will be taken, or what specific criteria or performance standard will be met, if this presumption is confirmed by the later protocol studies. The success or failure of mitigation efforts in regard to impacts on such vernal pool species may largely depend upon management plans that have not yet been formulated, and have not been subject to analysis and review within the EIR. The fact that the future management plans would be prepared only after consultation with wildlife agencies does not cure these basic errors under CEQA, since no adequate criteria or standards are set forth.

We recognize there are circumstances in which some aspects of mitigation may appropriately be deferred. “‘Deferral of the specifics of mitigation is permissible where the local entity commits itself to mitigation and lists the alternatives to be considered, analyzed and possibly incorporated in the mitigation plan. [Citation.] On the other hand, an agency goes too far when it simply requires a project applicant to obtain a biological report and then comply with any recommendations that may be made in the report. [Citation.] If mitigation is feasible but impractical at the time of a general plan or zoning amendment, it is sufficient to articulate specific performance criteria and make further approvals contingent on finding a way to meet them.’ [Citation.]” (Endangered Habitats League Inc. v. County of Orange (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 777, 793; see also, Riverwatch v. County of San Diego (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th
1428, 1448-1450 [a deferred approach may be appropriate where it is not reasonably practical or feasible to provide a more complete analysis before approval and the EIR otherwise provides adequate information of the project’s impacts]; Sacramento Old City Assn. v. City Council of Sacramento, supra, 229 Cal.App.3d at p. 1028-1029 [deferral of agency’s selection among several alternatives based on performance criteria was appropriate]; 1 Kostka & Zischke, Practice Under The California Environmental Quality Act (Cont.Ed.Bar 2006), § 14.10, p. 702-706.) Here, however, no reason or basis is provided in the EIR for the deferral to a future management plan (or plans) of these
particular mitigation measures, even though the EIR expressly presumes that
special-status species will be present in the vernal pool or swale areas. Accordingly, we conclude that the analysis of mitigation measures with respect to special-status species in the vernal pool areas was inadequate, since it improperly deferred formulation of land management aspects of such mitigation measures.

As to the EIR’s mitigation measures concerning burrowing owl habitat, we reach the same conclusion. The EIR admits such owls have nested in the area in the past (observed in 1999). The EIR presumes that burrowing owls nest and winter on the Project site, and states that the Project may cause direct and indirect impacts that are significant. In mitigation measure 3.6-7a, an area of 6.5 acres of grassland habitat with suitable burrows must be preserved, as recommended by the California Department of Fish and Game and the Burrowing Owl Consortium. Further, at least 30 days prior to
commencement of ground disturbance before each phase, a protocol survey for burrowing owls shall be conducted. If they are present, Jaxon must implement a plan for passive relocation of wintering owls, and maintain a minimum 250-foot buffer around nesting owls until a qualified biologist has determined that all young have fledged and are foraging independently. Finally, a qualified biologist shall prepare a management plan for the
burrowing owl preserve, which shall be approved by California Department of Fish and Game prior to any mining and implementation of the proposed plan. Although many valid mitigation measures are described, no reason is given for deferral of the land management plan concerning the burrowing owl preserve, nor are any criteria or standards of performance set forth. We conclude the EIR improperly deferred formulation of this mitigation measure as well.

Finally, Petitioners note that in mitigation measure 3.6-2d, if the Project causes loss to functioning and value of vernal pool areas, there must be mitigation in the form of replacement by either creating vernal pools or swales within the conservation area on site, or by off-site purchase of wetland banking credits. Since there are no wetlands conservation banks present in the County of Merced, the latter alternative is unavailable. The FEIR acknowledges this fact, but emphasizes that the other option -- i.e., creating new vernal pools in the conservation area onsite -- remains a reasonable mitigation measure. And if mitigation credits become available within the watershed, the FEIR further explains, then “such acquisition would become an additional available measure.” In light of this clarification in the FEIR, petitioners have failed to demonstrate this particular mitigation measure is inadequate or unsubstantiated....

VIII. Prejudice

‘“When the informational requirements of CEQA are not complied with, an agency has failed to proceed in a ‘manner required by law.’ [Citations.] If the deficiencies in an EIR ‘preclude informed decisionmaking and public participation, the goals of CEQA are thwarted and a prejudicial abuse of discretion has occurred.’ [Citation.]” (Bakersfield Cititzens, supra, 124 Cal.App.4th at p. 1220.)

In the present case, the EIR was fundamentally flawed due to a curtailed and shifting Project description, which meant that the public and decisonmakers were not adequately informed about the full scope and magnitude of the Project. The unstable description carried over into the impacts analysis, resulting in an understated and inadequate discussion of water and traffic impacts, as discussed herein. Compounding these errors, the baseline assumptions were not clearly identified. Additionally, the EIR improperly deferred formulation of mitigation measures with respect to protection of biological habitats of special-status species, and provided inadequate responses to certain comments. These deficiencies in the EIR were prejudicial because they precluded informed decisionmaking and public participation. Therefore, certification of the EIR was a prejudicial abuse of discretion.

As a result, the Project approvals must likewise be voided. As this court summarized in Bakersfield Citizens, supra, 124 Cal.App.4th at p. 1221: “The Guidelines unequivocally require the lead agency to certify a legally adequate final EIR prior to deciding whether or not to approve or carry out a contested project (Guidelines, §§ 15089 to 15092.) ‘[T]he ultimate decision of whether to approve a project, be that decision right or wrong, is a nullity if based upon an EIR that does not provide the decisionmakers, and the public, with the information about the project that is required by CEQA.’ [Citations.] Thus, the project approvals and associated land use entitlements also must be voided.”

DISPOSITION

The judgment is reversed, and the action is remanded to the trial court with directions to grant the writ of mandate vacating County’s certification of the EIR and its approval of the Project (including CUP 99009), based on the violations of CEQA as set forth herein. The trial court shall, in addition, issue orders that the Project may be considered for potential re-approval by the County, if a new, legally adequate EIR is prepared, circulated and certified in compliance with CEQA, including opportunity for public comment. Upon consideration of such new EIR, and in accordance with all
applicable laws, the County may then determine whether or not to re-approve the Project.

The County may require modification of the Project and/or additional mitigation measures as conditions of approval...

Kane, J.
WE CONCUR:

Harris, Acting P.J.

Dawson, J.

| »

The MacDonald Affair

Submitted: Mar 31, 2007

Having observed and commented on the corruption of local, state and federal environmental law in this region for nearly a decade, the recent hoopla surrounding Julia MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Department of Interior, is not news. We met MacDonald shortly after her appointment as aide to Judge Craig Manson, the assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, in 2002. She urged us to get in touch. We think we have her card somewhere.

Locally, we see it as being within the general context of another spring offensive by finance, insurance, real estate and the Bush regime against the San Joaquin Valley. We are going into a drought, Bush is losing his war, and the local speculative housing boom is collapsing, generating skyrocketing foreclosure rates and some class-action suits on building defects. However, as we have said since they stole the Florida election in 2000, these people crossed their Rubicon and have had nowhere to go since but straight into the public's face.
The Badlands editorial staff honestly admits that MacDonald's corruptions would be quite beyond our scope if any of Interior's Inspector General's report were news to us. But we've covered most of it when her meddling and bullying first appeared. It's all back there in the archives somewhere and we will dig it out at the appropriate times. Meanwhile, she's a certifiable California "waterperson." She went after Klamath Bull Trout to help Rove do his stunt in the Klamath basin before the 2004 election; she went after the San Joaquin Delta Smelt, when heavy pumping caused by Interior's brokered Colorado River Agreement meant Southern California would have to get more water from the Delta; she went after seasonal wetlands and vernal pools and California Tiger Salamanders, all local issues here in the Pombozastan. We reported it all as it was happening.

However, that said, we were titillated by MacDonald's intimate relations with the California Farm Bureau and Pacific Legal Foundation, on the same ideological page: private property's right to public water.

On the other hand, the changes proposed by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to the Endangered Species Act, a story that appeared a day earlier, is news. A story of human sacrifice, particularly of a woman, is cool, but the dry, bureaucratic language of the proposed ESA changes are meanwhile concealed. Yet, these proposals capture the worst aspects of the Pomboza bill to gut the ESA in the last session, which aroused so much anger in the environmental community that, with help from former Rep. Pete McCloskey, they defeated Pombo at the polls. Furthermore, they would turn over many key ESA decisions to governors. In California, where the governor and the Legislature is actually owned by finance, insurance and real estate special interests, you could kiss some species goodbye if this proposal passes judicial review. As a recently retired Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species specialist put it, the reason we have federal protections for endangered species is because the states will not protect them.

The Bush regime is consistent, if nothing else, and that consistency has fallen heavily on the San Joaquin Valley. The other federal proposal-of-the-month of special impact is the idea of privatizing the heavy-metal laden water of the San Joaquin Valley west side, including giving the water districts partial ownership of the San Luis Reservoir. This is the Bush regime solution to upcoming review of the selenium situation around Kesterson.

Of course, there is a connection between this story and the MacDonald Affair. She's a genuine California water girl.

But, our question is: was she any worse than the Cowgirl Chancellor of UC Merced, who built the first phase of the beloved boondoggle without the required federal permits, quit her job (along with a number of other of her starting team), and dropped a regulatory mess in her successors' laps and a bigger mess in the community's lap. If MacDonald was in the air in Washington, the Cowgirl was right here on the ground, building that anchor tenant for one of the greatest, most destructive speculative real estate booms in the nation. Nor has the attempt by UC to corrupt environmental law and regulation at every level of government by its lobbyists, administrators, lawyers, politicians like Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced and the regional finance, insurance and real estate special interests stopped. These interests will destroy California's fragile water-delivery system in order to save their profits. A key step in that is to get public attention off endangered species that in any way appear to interfere with delivery of paper water through the Delta pumps via crumbling levees. The collapsing housing bubble only encourages them.

There is a rough equivalence between the endangered species menaced by MacDonald's policies and the misery of students at UC Merced, which is today a sort of developer's model home of a university, with decorative students in residence (not all of them expiring in the shrubbery). However, like the endangered species, about which the Cowgirl's rhetoric was just fine, the students are not there for display; they want a life, too.

Nope. We admit the corruption of the federal government and the University of California, in full color, is too much for our humble descriptive abilities. We'll leave the job to the mainstream press. Its reporters are well-rested after seven years on a vacation from reality. Let them "investigate" and give each other prizes.

Meanwhile we will ask why Judge Manson was rewarded for his crimes against Nature with an appointment to McGeorge Law School. McGeorge needs some looking into, actually. Its dean is a former general counsel for the CIA. What's going on there? Why did UC Boalt Hall hire John Yoo, author of the torture-justifying memo during his years as counsel to the president?

And, isn't the timing of the MacDonald story and the ESA changes interesting? How much do top Fish and Wildlife Service officials support the Bush proposals? FWS Director Dale Hale appears, in the Inspector General's report, to be the epitome of a guardian of pure biology in the MacDonald Affair stories, while simultaneously trying to squelch any news about the new ESA rules. Are we headed for a "show hearing" at the House Natural Resources Committee in May on MacDonald, while the ESA changes wend their unnoticed way through the Bush regime "process"?

Will the next proposal for rule changes coming from the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service be to privatize all the wildlife refuges in the nation?

We might also ask -- from the ground here in UC/Great Valley Center/Pombozastan, home of a state "blueprint" for growth along the lines indicated by Pombo Family Real Estate Farms -- how soon will UC give up on UC Merced and move it to Tracy, which wants a college, where it can be absorbed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Level-4 Biowarfare Lab and the Tsakopoulos family's Hellenic studies programs? Our nation needs genetic technologists who can create the biological weapons of the future (and, of course, their antidotes) while simultaneously learning to conjugate irregular Greek verbs and reading a bit of Jaeger's Paideia. Don't it? Ain't that the kind of "shared experience" we need?

How long will it be before the next Peripheral Canal proposal surfaces to convey paper water in a drought to Southern California? Before or after the next levee break?

It is the very bravest of new worlds possible, my dear Calaban. How's the asthma?

Bill Hatch
----------------------------

3-28-07
New York Times
Proposed changes would shift duties in protecting species...Felicity Barringer
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/washington/28habitat.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering limiting the ability of federal wildlife protection agencies to intervene on behalf of endangered species that may be harmed by federal actions...would also increase the role of state governments in administering some of the species protections that are now the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. H. Dale Hall...said Tuesday that the draft proposal detailing the changes was “really a beginning of a process.” "It had all options on the table,” Mr. Hall said. “It really doesn’t represent anything that we support or don’t support.” Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with the Seattle office of Earthjustice, an environmental group, said that he had obtained a copy of the draft proposal from a federal official, and that it was created in June but had been edited as recently as a month ago. “I certainly don’t think that anyone ever contemplated a wholesale delegation of fundamental duties” to the states, Mr. Hasselman said. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed legislation amending the act when he was a senator from Idaho, and more drastic changes were proposed in the last Congress in an unsuccessful bill.

3-27-07
Salon
Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act
Proposed regulatory changes, obtained by Salon, would destroy the "safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction," say environmentalists.
By Rebecca Clarren

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is maneuvering to fundamentally weaken the Endangered Species Act, its strategy laid out in an internal 117-page draft proposal obtained by Salon. The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

"The proposed changes fundamentally gut the intent of the Endangered Species Act," says Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, who helped Salon interpret the proposal. "This is a no-holds-barred end run around one of America's most popular environmental protections. If these regulations stand up, the act will no longer provide a safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction."

In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: "Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation."

Many Fish and Wildlife Service employees believe the draft is not based on "defensible science," says a federal employee who asked to remain anonymous. Yet "there is genuine fear of retaliation for communicating that to the media. People are afraid for their jobs."

Chris Tollefson, a spokesperson for the service, says that while it's accurate to
characterize the agency as trying to keep the draft under wraps, the agency has every intention of communicating with the public about the proposed changes; the draft just hasn't been ready. And, he adds, it could still be changed as part of a forthcoming formal review process.

Administration critics characterize the secrecy as a way to maintain spin control, says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. "This administration will often release a 300-page-long document at a press conference for a newspaper story that will go to press in two hours, giving the media or public no opportunity to digest it and figure out what's going on," Suckling says. "[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne will give a feel-good quote about how the new regulations are good for the environment, and they can win the public relations war."

In some ways, the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act should come as no surprise. President Bush has hardly been one of its fans. Under his reign, the administration has granted 57 species endangered status, the action in each case being prompted by a lawsuit. That's fewer than in any other administration in history -- and far fewer than were listed during the administrations of Reagan (253), Clinton (521) or Bush I (234). Furthermore, during this administration, nearly half of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees who work with endangered species reported that they had been directed by their superiors to ignore scientific evidence that would result in recommendations for the protection of species, according to a 2005 survey of more than 1,400 service biologists, ecologists and botanists conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit organization.

"We are not allowed to be honest and forthright, we are expected to rubber stamp
everything," wrote a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist as part of the survey. "I have 20 years of federal service in this and this is the worst it has ever been."

The agency has long seen a need to improve the act, says Tollefson. "This is a look at what's possible," he says. "Too much of our time as an agency is spent responding to litigation rather than working on recovering the species that are most in need. The current way the act is run creates disincentives for people to get involved with recovering species."

Kempthorne, boss of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been an outspoken critic of the act. When he was a U.S. senator from Idaho in the late 1990s, he championed legislation that would have allowed government agencies to exempt their actions from Endangered Species Act regulations, and would have required federal agents to conduct cost-benefit analyses when considering whether to list a species as endangered. (The legislation failed.) Last June, in his early days as interior secretary, Kempthorne told reporters, "I really believe that we can make improvements to the act itself."

Kempthorne is keeping good on his promise. The proposed draft is littered with language lifted directly from both Kempthorne's 1998 legislation as well as from a contentious bill by former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. (which was also shot down by Congress). It's "a wish list of regulations that the administration and its industry allies have been talking about for years," says Suckling.

Written in terse, dry legal language, the proposed draft doesn't make for easy reading.

However, the changes, often seemingly subtle, generally serve to strip the Fish and Wildlife Service of the power to do its stated job: to protect wildlife. Some verge on the biologically ridiculous, say critics, while others are a clear concession to industry and conservative Western governors who have long complained that the act degrades the economies of their states by preventing natural-resource extraction.

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in "the foreseeable future" -- a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years -- it's a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn't even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they'd be unlikely to die out in two decades.

"It makes absolutely no sense biologically," wrote Hasselman in an e-mail. "One of the Act's weaknesses is that species aren't protected until they're already in trouble and this proposal puts that flaw on steroids."

Perhaps the most significant proposed change gives state governors the opportunity and funding to take over virtually every aspect of the act from the federal government. This includes not only the right to create species-recovery plans and the power to veto the reintroduction of endangered species within state boundaries, but even the authority to determine what plants and animals get protection. For plants and animals in Western states, that's bad news: State politicians throughout the region howled in opposition to the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into Arizona and the Northern Rockies wolf into Yellowstone National Park.

"If states are involved, the act would only get minimally enforced," says Bob Hallock, a recently retired 34-year veteran of the Fish and Wildlife Service who, as an endangered species specialist, worked with state agencies in Idaho, Washington and Montana. "States are, if anything, closer to special economic interests. They're more manipulated. The states have not demonstrated the will or interest in upholding the act. It's why we created a federal law in the first place."

Additional tweaks in the law would have a major impact. For instance, the proposal would narrow the definition of a species' geographic range from the landscape it inhabited historically to the land it currently occupies. Since the main reason most plants and animals head toward extinction is due to limited habitat, the change would strongly hamper the government's ability to protect chunks of land and allow for a healthy recovery in the wild.

The proposal would also allow both ongoing and planned projects by such federal agencies as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service to go forward, even when scientific evidence indicates that the projects may drive a species to extinction. Under the new regulations, as long as the dam or logging isn't hastening the previous rate of extinction, it's approved. "This makes recovery of species impossible," says Suckling.

Gutting the Endangered Species Act will only thicken the pall that has hung over the Fish and Wildlife Service for the past six years, Hallock says. "They [the Bush
administration] don't want the regulations to be effective. People in the agency are like a bunch of whipped dogs," he says. "I think it's just unacceptable to go around squashing other species; they're of incalculable benefit to us. The optimism we had when this agency started has absolutely been dashed."

3-27-07
Endangered Species Act changes in the works...Janet Wilson and Julie Cart
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-na-endangered28mar28,1,7044899.story

Bush administration officials said Tuesday that they were reviewing proposed changes to the way the 34-year-old Endangered Species Act is enforced, a move that critics say would weaken the law in ways that a Republican majority in Congress was unable to do...draft of suggested changes, which was leaked Tuesday, would reduce protection for wildlife habitat and transfer some authority over vulnerable species to states. Acting under orders from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who has long fought for changes in the law, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall said he had asked his senior field staff to evaluate proposals in the draft by policy advisors in the Departments of Interior and Commerce, which oversee almost 1,300 imperiled species. Hall made his comments after environmental groups and the online journal Salon.com published a draft version of the proposals Tuesday. The draft contains language from Kempthorne's proposed 1998 legislation and from a controversial bill by former Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), both of which died in Congress.

3-27-07
Washington Post
Govt. eyes changes in Species Protection...H. Josef Hebert, AP
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/27/AR2007032701623_pf.html

Details of some of the proposed changes surfaced Tuesday in a number of draft department documents released by environmentalists, who said the changes would amount to a gutting of the federal Endangered Species Act. Department spokesmen said the drafts were still under review and that no decision had been made by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on whether to proceed. "The focus is how we can do a better job of recovering more species," department spokesman Hugh Vickery said in an interview. He called the documents that have surfaced preliminary and in some cases out of date. Some of the proposed changes are outlined in a 117-page draft regulation and in a half-dozen separate memorandums, some dating back to last summer and others as recent as mid-February. The proposed changes "touch on every key program under the Endangered Species Act. It is a rewrite from top to bottom," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group based in Tucson, Ariz. The draft was the subject of a story Tuesday on Salon.com. Vickery said the 117-page document, which includes many of the proposed changes, is old. "It does not represent the latest thinking by the Fish and Wildlife Service," he said. "Recommendations are still being floated." But Daniel Patterson of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which put the documents on its Web site Tuesday, said the memos have been circulated among agencies outside the Interior Department, suggesting that the proposals are in the late stage of consideration.

3-30-07
Stockton Record
GOP launches early attack on McNerney...Hank Shaw
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070329/A_NEWS/703290337

National Republicans have begun their attempt to unseat Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, a full 20 months before Election Day 2008. The Republican National Campaign Committee, which spent tens of thousands of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to save former Tracy Rep. Richard Pombo last fall, has included McNerney in its first round of targets posted on www.therealdemocratstory.com. NRCC will also send about 100,000 e-mails into McNerney's 11th District highlighting their criticism of the freshman Democrat's voting record. McNerney has voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time so far this year.

3-31-07
Center for Biological Diversity
Interior Department Official Distorted Agency's Own Science to Avoid Protecting Endangered Species...Press Release...3-29-07

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/press/macdonald-03-29-2007.html
Report from Inspector General Department of Interior Blasts Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald
3-23-07...A copy of the Inspector General’s report is available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/esa/pdfs/DOI-IG-Report_JM.pdf.

3-31--07
San Francisco Chronicle
Judge tosses new forest rules...Henry K. Lee
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/31/BAGE5OVFUT1.DTL&hw=endangered+species&sn=003&sc=374

A federal judge in San Francisco threw out the Bush administration's new rules Friday for managing the country's 155 national forests, saying the government had failed to consider the environmental effects that could result from the changes...administration also failed to give the public a chance to review the new regulations before they went into effect in 2005, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said in a ruling on two consolidated lawsuits filed by environmental groups and the state of California. Hamilton said the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act and couldn't institute the new rules until environmental reviews are conducted. More than a dozen environmental groups had filed suit, including Citizens for Better Forestry, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.

3-32-07
San Francisco Chronicle
UC faculty to join talks on big BP biofuels deal...Rick DelVecchio
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/31/BAGE5OV6G61.DTL&hw=uc&sn=001&sc=921

UC Berkeley's administration has invited faculty members to join the contract talks on the $500 million BP biofuels deal amid pressure to ensure that campus traditions and values are safeguarded in the partnership. Journalism Professor Bill Drummond, chairman of the campus Academic Senate, said the administration will allow four professors who chair Senate committees -- Calvin Moore, Patrick Kirch, Christopher Kutz and J. Miguel Villas-Boas -- to participate in the negotiations... The university's administration is being sharply challenged by faculty members who fear the BP deal is so big that it threatens to upset the tradition of shared governance on campus between the Academic Senate and the administration. A petition signed by 130 faculty members, including some of the campus' most widely respected academics, calls for the immediate convening of a blue-ribbon committee to look into aspects of the BP deal that impinge on the Academic Senate's mandate. The petitioners argue that decisions on hiring faculty and allocating resources to the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute, to be staffed by 50 BP-appointed researchers and 100 from academia, are going forward without proper campus review. A second petition by a different group of faculty members seeks to cancel the BP deal on the grounds that it constitutes the "greenwashing" of the oil company's environmental record through its association with the university. Robert Dudley, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and a member of the Academic Senate's academic freedom committee, said the lack of disclosure of the BP deal's details is "potentially suspicious."...cited a 1998-2003 research deal under which the Swiss biotech firm Novartis provided $25 million in funding to the university's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Faculty members were upset that a funding deal that large wasn't discussed universitywide before it was implemented. Ironically, the Novartis controversy prompted Cornell's faculty to develop standards that could be put into action in a similar partnership. Cornell faculty's 26-page document was finished in 2005 after two years of debate...document coined a new term for large-scale research sponsorships: "strategic corporate alliances."

3-30-07
San Francisco Chronicle
UC-Merced hopes to lure large-campus rejects...San Jose Mercury News
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/30/state/n125253D42.DTL&hw=uc&sn=009&sc=878

The University of California, Merced has a new strategy to attract students:...The "Shared Experience" program will allow about 1,000 students who narrowly miss admission to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine or UC San Diego to attend the Merced campus for two years, and then finish their studies at a more established school. Growth has been slower than expected at UC Merced, where freshman enrollment dropped 38 percent last fall in the school's second year. The Shared Experience program was also used to increase attendance at UC Santa Cruz in the 1980s, when some students were guaranteed subsequent entry to the Berkeley campus.

3-31-07
Los Angeles Times
Southland's dry spell could get worse...Betinna Boxall
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-dry31mar31,1,7683947

Nature is pulling a triple whammy on Southern California this year. Whether it's the Sierra, the Southland or the Colorado River Basin, every place that provides water to the region is dry. It's a rare and troubling pattern, and if it persists it could thrust the region into what researchers have dubbed the perfect Southern California drought: when nature shortchanges every major branch of the far-flung water network that sustains 18 million people. The mountain snowpack vital to water imports from Northern California is at the lowest level in nearly two decades. The Los Angeles area has received record low rainfall this winter... And the Colorado River system remains in the grip of one of the worst basin droughts in centuries. Thanks to a bountiful Sierra snowpack in the spring of 2006, the state's reservoirs are in good shape. Twice during the 20th century — in the late 1950s and the early 1980s — drought strained all three regions that supply Southern California, said Scripps Institution of Oceanography hydrologist Hugo Hidalgo. UCLA geography professor Glen MacDonald, warned, "if you went into a decade or longer of persistent drought that affected the Sacramento [River Basin], the Los Angeles area and the Colorado, you would end up basically taxing all of the those water storage facilities, from the dams on the Colorado to what we have here, to beyond the breaking point." As a result of this spring's skimpy Sierra snowpack — it's at 46% of the normal statewide average — the State Water Project will reduce deliveries of Northern California water to the central and southern parts of the state, but not dramatically.

Washington Post
Extinct sense...Editorial
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/30/AR2007033001998.html
IT LOOKS LIKE another story of endangered ethics on the Bush administration's environmental staff. Last week the Interior Department's inspector general submitted the results of an investigation of Julie A. MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, to congressional overseers. According to numerous accounts collected in the inquiry, Ms. MacDonald has terrorized low-level biologists and other employees for years, often yelling and even swearing at them. One official characterized her as an "attack dog." Much of this bullying, the report suggests, was aimed at diluting the scientific conclusions and recommendations of government biologists and at favoring industry and land interests. Ms. MacDonald's subordinates said she has trenchantly resisted both designating new species as endangered and protecting imperiled animals' habitats. She defended her interventions in an interview with the inspector general's staff, saying that she kept Interior's scientists accountable, according to the report. But the evidence available suggests she was at the least too aggressive. H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, recounted a battle he had with Ms. MacDonald over the Southwest willow flycatcher, an endangered bird. claims that Ms. MacDonald insisted on lowering that to 1.8 miles so that the nesting range would not extend into California, where her husband maintained a family ranch. The inspector general noted that she has no formal training in biology. The inspector general's review of Ms. MacDonald's e-mail account also showed that she had close ties to lobbying organizations that have challenged endangered-species listings and that she had "misused her position" to give them information not available to the public on Interior Department policy. Reports of Ms. MacDonald's alleged sins have emerged soon after revelations of other ethical lapses by Bush environmental appointees. J. Steven Griles, the former second in command at Interior, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff scandal. And Sue Ellen Wooldridge, formerly the government's top environmental lawyer, jointly purchased a vacation home with Mr. Griles and a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. These are troubling incidents. Ms. MacDonald works for an agency tasked with making determinations based on scientific fact, not on her, or her lobbyist friends', inclinations. She appears to have betrayed that vital principle. The inspector general has sent his report to top officials at the Interior Department. They should investigate for themselves the document's troubling descriptions and take action to ensure that Ms. MacDonald and other managers at Interior make policy fit the science, not the other way around.

4-1-07
Sacramento Bee
Canal still best Delta water fix...Dan Walters
http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/147490.html

One of Brown's better initiatives was closing a gap in the water system that had been started under his father, Pat Brown...the "Peripheral Canal" enjoyed support from both environmentalists and municipal and agricultural water agencies... After a highly misleading, farmer-financed campaign, voters rejected the Peripheral Canal in 1982. Had the Peripheral Canal been built as Jerry Brown urged, the fish being chewed up in the pumps would have been alive and more numerous. Had the Peripheral Canal been built, we wouldn't have to worry so much about Delta levees collapsing due to an earthquake or being breached by rising ocean levels from global warming, either of which would threaten water deliveries. But the canal wasn't built. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." Arnold Schwarzenegger is the first governor since Brown to truly confront the water policy gridlock. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." He's right.

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A Plague of Big Shots

Submitted: Mar 24, 2007

submitted by Bill Hatch

Big Shots are found everywhere in American society. So, viewing them from the San Joaquin Valley of California, once a great agricultural area now mindlessly converting itself as fast as violation of environmental law and regulation and common sense permits to another Western slurb, is as good a place as any to observe Big Shots.

American society is plagued with Big Shots, people that have gotten to some position of power through an excess of aggression, which they use to bully others. The rest of us all too often take the bullying in stride, hoping for a better day or, under the relentless onslaught, cave and grow permanently afraid.

All Big Shots have some self-righteous ideology, fundamentalism or doctrine to shout down at the rest of us from their positions, just a little above us one way or another.

The self-justification can be anything from “good work habits” to “the war against global terrorism.” All of it is a smoke screen for big-mouthed little cowards playing authoritarian games, throughout the sick institutional structure of this nation – from the orchard and tomato field to the packing shed to the city council to the school to the development corporation and the oil company to the White House.

We sit and read and hope somehow the “We the People” of the high-school texts will miraculously manifest that mythical unity We are said to possess to get the Big Shots off our backs, without risking anything. But, there is too much power, too much money floating around America, too many weapons in obedient hands and way too little human dignity left to stop this imperial cannibalism that is devouring millions of people in our imperial way – the toll rising, unabated by weak political resistance within the empire’s “homeland.”

Americans now confuse order and government in the “homeland” with bullying and being bullied. We elect a majority of Democrats in Congress to stop the war and their “leadership” blows us off in favor of the military contractors, the oil companies and the Israel lobby. But, will the public stand up to them? Call them by their name: hypocrites, sanctimonious bribe-takers, hacks and buffoons? Sue them? Prosecute them? Call their propaganda by its name?

America is a frightened, ruthless, unjust and ugly society full of denial and a guilt growing too large to measure, let alone accept. More than 600,000 Iraqis are dead because of a 30-year political “vacation” taken by the citizens of the USA, culminating in this atrocity. Our health care system is broken because America does not care about its people’s health. Top American political leadership is sociopathic because it serves at the pleasure of transnational corporations with no commitment to anything but their profits and the destruction of government regulation rather than the people and law. But the people are too besotted with corporate propaganda to know their rights, their interests and how to defend either. Yet, the US is losing “the war against terrorism” for the same reason it long ago lost the “war on drugs”: the Big Shots are too corrupt to win a war or stop the carnage of this one. Or rebuild New Orleans. Or save our environment. Or even put a dent in global warming.

Big Shots dominate our federal, state and local legislatures and our media corporations. The political situation in America is, in fact, much more critical than most Americans can imagine. There are entire institutions, vital to a functional society that have dropped off the map of the civilized world because they have been so rotted out by the greed of special interests, bribery and corruption. A small example, that will be familiar only to the very few remaining candid souls living in rural America, will be this year’s Farm Bill, which will demonstrate again that the Department of Agriculture is so corrupt it cannot identify national interest or even farmers’ interests. Likewise with the Food and Drug Agency, that has made unwitting guinea pigs of the entire American society and any foreign markets for our crops too stupid or oppressed to avoid it for the free, unregulated experimentation of the health effects of genetically modified organisms. Resource agencies charged with enforcing environmental law and regulation are daily corrupted by development corporations. Agency-by-agency, institution-by-institution, where can we find one that is working for the People? As glad as we may be made by tidings of churches, with congregations 10,000 strong, doing incredible feats of community outreach and care, can they replace a government that is supposed to serve 300 million people and is not supposed to be owned by transnational corporations?

American universities promote those character traits of sycophantic aggression prized by the corrupt corporate power elites that fund research for private profit rather than public benefit. High school dropouts, unlike the PhDs that staff the nation’s national laboratories, are not recorded to have produced American weapons of mass destruction that menace the world. These weapons aren’t the products of education; they are from its simulacrum, the university/corporate technology/military complex. To these must be added the “independent experts” whose regular gigs are at the brothel think tanks.

As ever, on the cutting edge of military technology, the Pentagon now conducts war by hurling immeasurable (at least by its accounting) tons of pork at the enemy, possibly hoping to crush him under the sheer weight ham and bacon. While the Pentagon appears to have crushed our side, the insurgents have long ago gone on to their own civil war.

Jake Plummer is outraged over the treatment of Pat Tillman: They knew it was friendly fire then–it makes you sick

By: John Amato on Friday, September 15th, 2006 at 4:15 PM - PDT
On HBO’s Inside the NFL, Peter King interviewed Denver QB Jake Plummer about the horrific treatment the Tillman family have received over Pat’s death. There have been four investigations into what really happened to him and now a fifth one is getting close to being completed. How reprehensible has this been for the Tillman family? Pat is killed and they were repeatedly lied to. The family is not speaking out, but Plummer is. Good for him. Somebody has to.

Video-WMP Video-QT (rough transcript)
http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/09/15/jake-plummer-is-outraged-over-the-treatment-of-pat-tillman-they-knew-it-was-friendly-fire-then-it-makes-you-sick/

King: When you first heard that they hid these irregularities, were you outraged?

Plummer: It just made you feel kinda sick that they’d cover up something like that to–for whatever reason. We were all led to believe he died in leading his troops up the hill and then they come tell us it wasn’t–it was friendly fire. What can you do– you’re at their mercy and you just feel for the family…

I mention Big Shots only because there might be lingering in the American collective unconscious – that immense psychic ocean of all that is suppressed and ignored – some residual folk memory of resentment against Big Shots. Perhaps a residual sense of the political taste that caused people to fight to the death against the British so many years ago. However, it is probable that Americans, after 30 years of corporate propaganda, have been so overwhelmingly persuaded of their unique brilliance, success and that Beautiful Freedom we all enjoy, that they all conceive of themselves as Big Shots, entitled citizens, above the masses. In our area, the masses are imagined by our fictitious Big Shots to be foreigners, Mexicans and Asians and such. Casual observation suggests, however, that when Americans, convinced of their Big Shot status, are muscled by the equally convinced, the former group – rather than getting down to political realities – tends instead to develop a severe case of the vapors. “How dare they!” etc. Generally, their croquet balls are carefully aimed and demurely stroked at a non-lethal local official, in no position to help or to harm, simply one more minor Big Shot on his or her way up or down the ladder to Big Shot Heaven. Missing the target amounts to an alliance with one’s own gravedigger, but if one doesn’t know that, there is not point in bringing it up.

“Use it or lose it,” voter registrars used to mutter in front of supermarket doors at the feckless passers-by. They didn’t use it and they did lose it. Everyman the Big Shot, on his way into WalMart, was above mere voting.

The proper American hero of today is Yossarian, the terrified WWII bombardier of Catch-22. When you tell the truth to power, power will fire back. Yossarian wasn’t crazy. Fighting fascism is dangerous work. But, having allowed this unaccountable, authoritarian power to take root on the ground, it must be defeated even though it fights back. That would take courage and spirit, and probably fewer vacations. But, of course, Catch-22 was just a funny novel written 50 years ago, which said some rather off-message things about the “greatest generation.”

Our local McClatchy Chain corporate outlet is a Big Shot with barrels of ink that is never off-message. The Chain is part of the immense advertising/public relations empire in charge of controlling our taste, distorting all issues with one aim – the destruction of a truly public perspective in favor of the very private, “special” perspective of the private profits of their paymasters and their social equals in the Club de Big Shots. In the San Joaquin Valley, the McClatchy Chain relentlessly attacks the San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement, reached between local, state and national environmental groups and farmers and local, state and federal water agencies. The idea of accord between agriculture and environmental groups is an abomination to McClatchy advertisers – principally real estate development, finance and insurance – and they cannot allow this agreement to live, which would put Sierra snow melt back into the state’s second-longest river all the way to the Delta. To this destructive end, the Chain has taken to quoting every inane utterance of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, a bullyboy for corporate agribusiness welfare. The Big Shots the Chain does not name, who are bankrolling Nunes’ attack on the settlement, are smoother and worse.

The Big Shots intend to protect their power and their wealth. That’s all they have to say now, and all they ever had to say, millions of barrels of ink ago. Where’s the “Progress”? What did agribusiness, built on federal water, crop subsidies and low wages, really accomplish? Where is the quality in those islands of wealth surrounded by poverty and economic anxiety? What was the ideal served? Where is the happiness?

Do we live to buy what we don’t need to keep corporate CEOs in the style to which they have become accustomed, averaging 300 times higher compensation than the median income of their employees? Do we live for the fame of having invaded and destroyed already crippled nations to plunder their resources? Do we live to support and applaud or suffer in fearful silence the fraud and corruption of predatory plutocrats? Were we born to become the generation that forgot the difference between news and advertising? Is our purpose in life here in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere to stand at attention and sing hymns of praise to the destroyers of the Public Trust and the builders of grotesque slurbs – just because Big Shots have the “freedom” to do it?

Is this nation’s destiny freedom for Big Shots and the shaft for the rest of us?

“Of course not, of course not,” I hear you saying.

I end in communion with the great Dodge City lawman, Bat Masterson, who went on to a distinguished career as a New York City sports writer. He wrote:

There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us. I have observed, for example, that we all get the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter. -- Bat Masterson

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St. Paddy's at the Sun-Star

Submitted: Mar 18, 2007

"It appears that there were no environmental reviews considered along with (that) decision," said Marsha Burch, a Grass Valley-based attorney representing the SJRRC. "It's our assertion that that violates the California Environmental Quality Act." -- Merced Sun-Star, March 17, 2007

The Sun-Star celebrated St. Patrick's Day in fine style, writing fairly about those against child sacrifice to the great god, Asthma, in the San Joaquin Valley.

Bill Hatch

3-17-07
Merced Sun-Star
RMP lawsuits mount...Corinne Reilly

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13395685p-14013730c.html
It could be more than a year before a judge decides whether Riverside Motorsports Park can begin construction, or whether it must start over with a lengthy environmental review process...attorneys on both sides say it could take that long to resolve a handful of lawsuits now pending against the project. In January, four groups -- the California Farm Bureau Federation, the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, and Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources -- filed suit against Merced County to stop the racing complex, which is planned to cover 1,200 acres of farmland near Castle Airport. All the groups say the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act because it failed to adequately evaluate noise, traffic, pollution and other environmental impacts the track could bring before the Board of Supervisors approved the project in December. On Friday, the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center announced it's adding another lawsuit to the pile. most recent suit claims the Board of Supervisors didn't provide enough evidence to support its decision to override a previous ruling that racetrack developers shouldn't be allowed to build in proximity to Castle Airport's runway. The suit also alleges the county didn't consider the environmental impacts of that decision. "It appears that there were no environmental reviews considered along with (that) decision," said Marsha Burch, a Grass Valley-based attorney representing the SJRRC. "It's our assertion that that violates the California Environmental Quality Act." County officials said they hadn't been served with notice of the most recent suit by Friday afternoon, and county attorneys hadn't read it. When the Board of Supervisors voted on the project, supervisors Deidre Kelsey and John Pedrozo voted against certifying environmental reviews of the projects, saying they believed they were not thorough. The county's three other supervisors voted to approve the reviews. Fincher said the county and the law firm representing RMP have spent countless hours compiling documents that will make up an approximately 25,000-page official record of all information the Board of Supervisors considered before voting on the project. Among the documents to be included in the record are all plans and materials racetrack developers have turned in to the county, the project's environmental impact report, transcripts and minutes from public hearings, all written feedback from the public, related e-mails, and all notices the county posted to inform the public about the project. Burch, who is representing the SJRRC in the most recent lawsuit, said portions of the record gathered for the other suits might be used to avoid duplicating efforts. Burch said she believes that if the most recent case is handled separately from the others, it will likely conclude before the rest. "Compared to the other lawsuits, this one has a fairly narrow focus," she said. "I don't see it changing the timeline of when we might expect to see all of the challenges (against RMP) resolved." Foster Farms and the Federal Bureau of Prisons -- which runs the Atwater Federal Penitentiary that borders the racetrack's planned site -- also raised concerns over the project. Foster Farms has since reached an agreement with RMP to avoid a lawsuit....the Bureau of Prisons has also reached an agreement with RMP officials... Under an agreement between RMP and the county signed before the project's approval, RMP is responsible for paying all county expenses related to the suit.

Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, pp. 459-473.

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