Environment

Wobbly three-legged stool

Submitted: Jan 20, 2006

The three-legged stool

Viewed from an ecological perspective, rooted in the environment of the San Joaquin Valley of California, politically affairs this week seem to be perched on a very wobbly three-legged stool.

The short, skinny leg

When (funded) “value-free facilitators” begin showing up in your community, it is probably time to count the silverware or, from an ecological perspective, inventory the environmental quality of your neighborhood. We have an area called “South” Merced, where, traditionally, minority groups have lived south of the tracks and the highway. Through the years, the city has done a pretty decent job of hustling federal funds to repair and restore old single-family houses and build some multi-family apartment complexes. The county housing authority is located there. However, the area has almost no business, at least business useful to the residents, like a decent shopping center with a supermarket. In recent months, the city has proposed the development of a specific urban development plan for the neighborhood, appointed a citizen’s advisory commission and has engaging consultants to draw up a land-use plan.

What the area needs is development that pays its way for the schools it overcrowds, a decent shopping center with a supermarket, and more employment. A dark thought is that it will the area in which the city will fulfill its low-income housing quotient required to keep its general plan correct. Several new low-income complexes have already been built and more are already in the planning pipeline.

“We’re just glad to be here to facilitate this process,” said the value-free facilitator with a Crash Davis (“Bull Durham”) grasp of cliché, before a group of about 40 at a meeting two weeks ago. A number in the audience were government officials, including three city council members (including the mayor) and two supervisors. A city planner led a significant portion of the meeting.

An elderly resident complained about the governing vocabulary. “My tax bill doesn’t tell me I live in North or South Merced,” she said. “It says Merced. All we want is to have the same facilities throughout Merced.” She described 24 empty streetlights on her street. Later, an officious city councilman told the group those streetlights were in the county, not the city, so the city wasn’t responsible.

“There is something ignorant about this whole thing,” the resident commented. “Let’s use our intelligence and forget this North/South Merced.”

The value-free facilitator and the city planner went right on calling it South Merced, referring to my neighborhood as “Middle Merced.” North Merced is where the growth, induced by the arrival of UC Merced, is rapidly doubling the size of the city.

One of the neighborhood’s present dilemmas is what to do with Carl Pollard, an African-American resident of the neighborhood who, after losing six campaigns for the city council, was recently appointed to it. Less than a month after the appointment, he was charged with driving a car without insurance, with an open container of alcohol and some amount of marijuana in it. He has been fired from his realtor job. If convicted, presumably he would lose his council seat. Pollard led an invocation at the beginning of the meeting.

There are better people than Pollard, a political accident that has happened, trying to work for a decent level of services (at least one supermarket south of the tracks, for example), as development that does not pay its way rages to the north and more “low-income” housing development – horribly impacting schools in the south – is planned for the neighborhood. Perhaps, if they organize themselves, beginning by believing almost nothing of what city and county officials tell them, they will have a prayer the Rev. Pollard shall not lead.

“Value-free community organizing” facilitated from the top down by University of California personnel is illusory. What has worked in a modest way in the neighborhood has been volunteer crime watches that have existed for years. What will make things more miserable is crowding in more low-income residents to satisfy regional low-income housing mandates into an area with a chronically low level of services and usable commercial enterprises.

The fat, middle leg

A year ago, the Sacramento Bee did a series of articles exposing a classic situation of corporate power in diary processing. Hilmar Cheese had been polluting surface and groundwater near its site for years. The San Joaquin Regional Water Quality Control Board had been effectively bought off by the corporation. Publicly embarrassed, the board levied a $4-million fine against Hilmar.

After the state Water Resources Board in November refused Hilmar Cheese’s proposal to pay a fraction of the fine the regional water quality board had levied against it for polluting its area with huge quantities of wastewater, the federal EPA approved a test deep-injection well this week. Presumably, if the engineers on this project are more skillful than on the plant’s last techno-fix, the test will be successful, paving the way for injection of Hilmar Cheese’s 2-to-3 million gallons a day of waste water more than 3,000 feet below the Valley surface.

Meanwhile Hilmar’s corporate lawyers and water board lawyers continue to negotiate a settlement of the fine. The board should hear a new proposal by March, Catherine George, water board attorney, said today.

Vance Kennedy, a retired hydrologist from Modesto, told me yesterday it was as “done deal:” EPA has the power to override the state water board’s decision, on the grounds that deep injection is out of the state board’s jurisdiction over surface and ground water.” George confirmed Kennedy’s report.

“Ground water” refers to the aquifers several hundred feet down from which well water is drawn for domestic and agricultural use.

Kennedy said the EPA is using the analogy of water injection into oil and gas wells to force the products to the surface from beneath impenetrable layers. Hilmar, he said, is supposed to have a 100-foot thick layer of shale deep down, presumably impermeable.

He repeated the point he made in several hearings on the project: that water is incompressible and will move laterally, for miles, until it begins to push salty water up into groundwater aquifers lying above “impenetrable” layers.

“The sad thing is that salty water elsewhere may not show up for years or decades,” he said. He added it might not ever be possible to trace salt-water intrusion into wells back to the lateral pressure caused by Hilmar’s deep injection system.

Worse, Kennedy said, it’s a precedent for the San Joaquin Valley. Every wastewater facility from Redding to Bakersfield will be looking at this technology. EPA approved a number of wastewater deep-injection wells in Florida, providing another decade of rapid growth. The Sierra Club sued in February 2005, citing massive ecological damage. Kennedy said he’d been told Miami effluent has been traced as far away as Bermuda.

This middle leg is overweening corporate power to dominate surrounding communities and destroy their environments. Merced, the second largest dairy county in the nation, is afflicted with Big Dairy, an extremely powerful lobby from county to country devoted to the propositions: Bigger and More. The best comment I’ve heard on the economic philosophy of Big Dairy was from a small dairyman who said: when someday milk is so over-produced it isn’t worth a penny, some dairyman will say it’s a good day to buy cows.

The Hilmar Cheese deal reveals a tendency in our economy toward outright corporate ownership of government. In the lexicon of American politics exists the phrase, which covers the situation so well a book about the political career of a former Merced congressman, Tony Coelho, is titled, “Honest Graft.”

This sort of corruption tends to spiral out of control, as in the present case of the Abramoff affair. Some economists argue that eventually, the power of special interests devours the nation’s substance for the gains of very few, if gigantic firms. In the case of US transnational corporations, the approach has been to cause deep structural unemployment of domestic industrial workers and devour other nations’ substance at very low wages. The process is well advanced in the US, particularly in California, where the state budget is beginning to resemble the budget of Third World nations like Argentina and Chile, raped by utility and development corporations and thrown into the tender claws of Wall Street for the foreseeable future.

The impact of the EPA decision may go far beyond Hilmar.

The housing development industry is a radical example of the domination of sheer financial interest over the construction of subdivisions containing rows of three or four “housing products.” Everything about the structure of this “industry,” from the elaborate system of subcontracting to the pittance the state requires it pay for the schools it overcrowds, is designed to protect the developer investor from any public liability. In employs mobs of illegal aliens, heretofore always called “unskilled farmworkers,” to do highly skilled construction work for well below union wages. It has bought wholesale political and legal attacks on state and federal environmental law. It is pricing out farmers on agricultural land while making large rural landowners who sell for development rich. Development in states like California and Florida has made a mockery of any concept of urban planning.

If the deep-injection fix takes off in the Central Valley, residents and farmers will be the losers but the corporations will be the winners in the near term, which is their only time frame. Meanwhile, laws that haven’t already been written will be written to limit or exempt them from liability. But, one might object, wastewater facilities likely to jump on this fix are public entities. They are public entities driven every step of the way into surface and groundwater pollution by private development corporations. The system to protect the genuinely public interest is broken, corrupted, for sale, less and less often these days with even a pretence of being other than for sale. Growing numbers of rightwing politicians aggressively promote the ideology that public policy ought to be for sale to the highest bidder. Up and down the ranks of the Republican Party, this is considered to be “the hard, right decision.”

The local glaring, daily example is the loss of rights of existing residents of a region to the same quality of life they had before a UC campus was located in their county and development took off, running roughshod over law, regulation and resources. Against the local land-use authorities’ power to reject projects under the California Environmental Quality Act is the constant drum of developer propaganda: “Growth is inevitable.” You hear it on street corners out of the mouths of people who were once citizens but now passively accept the role of being mere subjects of alien, hostile government. It makes you wonder what else could have been done with all the money it took to convince Californians of this suicidal proposition that has, in 30 years, distorted this state out of all self-recognition, that has replaced, for private gain, a state composed of cities, towns, communities with abundant natural resources and rural economies of hope, with a slurbocracy of mere subjects.

Hilmar Cheese, “largest cheese plant in the world,” is using demonstrably bad Florida technology because its industry largely owns its regulators. Not that the EPA needed much encouragement to worsen the environment of the San Joaquin Valley. Its present administrator started his scientific career at Litton Bionetics, one of the nation’s leading developers of chemical and biological weapons: he is the perfect Bush fox for the EPA henhouse.

But, in our terribly contemporary political culture here in the 18th Congressional District, in Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, we have the epitome of the emerging one-party state, under the relentless pressure of special interest corruption. Cardoza is referred to locally simply as the south end of O Pomboza, the northern end being Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. Pombo is an exemplary modern American fascist, complete with his corruption problems linked to Abramoff, who he denies knowing, and his strong penchant for breaking laws he can’t change, like the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA decision leaves people to believe – and they are definitely meant to believe – they are powerless to stop this level of pollution, corporate irresponsibility and corruption, because the corporations, the Pomboza and the regulating agencies don’t give a damn about the people and believe they exist to do the bidding of the least responsible whim of the corporations who effectively own their own regulating agencies. Some political theorists call this form of government corporatist and describe it as a precursor to fascism. We will content ourselves with the homey old American expression, “honest graft,” well established in government during the McKinley administration, apparently the guide to all domestic politics in the W. administration.

There are residual American political tactics against such corruption. People concerned about this well and its implications for the future of groundwater in the Central Valley ought to consider starting a national boycott against Hilmar Cheese products. A boycott has the old-fashioned charm of asserting the dignity of human communities in the face of inhuman corporate power. People might find it a refreshing diversion from being oppressed and depressed by decisions affecting their lives over which they have no control.

The long, weird leg

A preface is required to begin to describe the last leg of the current stool. I’ve chosen a passage from Douglas Dowd’s book on Thorstein Veblen, an American economist who wrote this during the McKinley administration, at the turn of the 20th century:

“Business interests urge an aggressive national policy and businessmen direct it. Such a policy is warlike as well as patriotic. The direct cultural value of a warlike business policy is unequivocal. It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, and within the military organization at all times, under martial law, civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance … a military organization is a servile organization. Insubordination is the deadly sin. (The Theory of Business Enterprise, Thorstein Veblen, 1904, p. 391)

What is true of those directly involved in the military applies also to the civilian population in significant degree:

“They learn to think in warlike terms of rank, authority, and subordination, and so grow progressively more patient of encroachments upon their civil rights … At the same stroke they (patriotic ideals) direct the popular interest to other, nobler institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comfort. (Ibid. p. 393)

But for those who might see this as a triumph of business enterprise over the threat of social change led by workers, it is turned by Veblen into a hollow triumph. For, if the discipline and values of the warlike and patriotic society may “correct” the institutionally disintegrative trend of the machine process, it is just as probable that, for the same reasons there would be “a rehabilitation of the ancient patriotic animosity and dynastic loyalty, to the relative neglect of business interests. This may easily be carried so far as to sacrifice the profits of the businessman to the exigencies of the higher politics (Ibid. 395).

Thus, Veblen sees the system of business enterprise caught in a terrible historical dilemma: If, to offset the institutional and threatening imperative of industrialism, it encourages, or acquiesces in, developments that will cause social unrest to “sink in the broad sands of patriotism,” it is faced with the equal probability that what is quicksand for one will sooner or later pull down the other.

The last paragraph of the Theory might be Veblen’s epitaph for the system of business enterprise:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either. (Ibid. p. 400)

(Thus, in the late 1930s, German industrialists who had supported Nazism as a “corrective discipline” for the political and economic troubles of the early 1930’s found themselves increasingly harassed by regulation, taxation, and general interference in their affairs by Nazi Party and Wehrmacht functionaries.) – Thorstein Veblen, by Douglas Dowd, 1964, pp. 52-53.

In our suddenly radical contemporary experience in Merced, we now host UC, a university whose two national laboratories of mass destruction are now competing for the design award for new nuclear weapons. Therefore, we must ask, for what end, the Cold War having ended some years ago? Our current, neo-McKinley imperial administration cum dynastic, monarchal pretensions, aims at nothing less than world domination. Like the Nazis, the neocons didn’t come to power just to regulate, tax and interfere with business. They came with a plan for world domination. Read all about it at the Project for the New American Century (http://www.newamericancentury.org).

The details of the vision really don’t matter nearly as much as the absurd fact of the vision itself “for the spread of American ideals.” For the neocons, the vision is the only fact that matters. One observes the tendency daily in the president. In fact, as opposed to vision, America cannot even fight successfully in two war theaters, let alone the many anticipated by the PNAC. And their he-man, Ariel Sharon, is in a coma.

On the other hand, they have our UC to build new nuclear weapons.

The fat leg should be called by its name: totalitarian ambition. It has not happened yet. The Alito confirmation hearing was held up for a week. Investigations of scandals mount. The drums for impeachment tap, if inaudibly to the ears of American subjects. However, “yet” is a highly ambiguous term in such a moment, because, although we are aware of the velocity of change, we aren’t able to measure it accurately, in large part for lack of honest media. The totalitarian ambition has been an old dream of American industrialists and financiers, evident to Veblen in 1904, far more overt before the two world wars, and the Bush family has been heavily involved in it since before WWI.

The only question of any importance today is whether the American people have the intelligence to see it and the energy left, in this rapidly decaying economy, to resist it, particularly without an effective opposition political party. Appeals to the ideals of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights fall on largely deaf ears. The fundamental right for which American subjects of the British crown fought was the right of political participation. After a century of fraudulent commercial advertising and government propaganda, is there enough citizenship left in the subject population to resist the neocon plan to make the Mideast safe for Israel, US oil companies, conduct an eternal Indian War against Arabs, and subject the US population to enough terror so that it doesn’t notice the absurdity of the neocon vision and the destruction of both the domestic economy and its environment.

The question is important, however, as a preliminary to the larger, more dangerous problem of how we confront global warming and lesser forms of environmental destruction. We haven’t a prayer of avoiding the global tipping point without strong state regulation of corporate environmental destruction. It also leads one to wonder just how many UC-built nuclear bomb blasts it would take to tip the planet over the edge. It is hard to imagine anything more destructive to the environment than a nuclear bomb. But, UC Merced is an environmentally conscious campus.

And they ask why the public mind is boggled so often these days.

Veblen’s prognosis for American business is a useful anchor:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either.” (Ibid. p. 400)

“Full domination” has been achieved all too successfully. The rule of law is rapidly crumbling before this full domination. Law was the arena in which the divergent tendencies met and argued. Without law effectively protecting the rights of citizens, the United States of America ceases to be itself and the voice of reason is drowned by the screaming antinomy between privileged and desperate subjects in a rapidly deteriorating environment. The reasonable solution would appear to be something less than “full domination of business enterprise,” beginning with regulatory agencies that are permitted to perform their necessary public function, uninfluenced by either political pressure or foxes in henhouses. The political irony is that business enterprise would have to call for a rapid, perhaps radical reduction of its domination in order to save the system of government that nurtured its rise to power. That would require an act of reason probably beyond the capacity of corporate attitudes today and equally beyond the capacities of its bought and sold political class. The real road to Hell has been paved with done deals between special interests and government.

But that’s just how things look from the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in California.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution

Douglas Dowd: Thorstein Veblen

Hilmar Cheese Permitted to Drill Test Well
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11676192p-12403995c.html

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

Brooks Jackson, Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process

Upgrades planned for U.S. nuclear stockpile. Agency leader expects significant warhead redesigns...James Sterngold
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/15/MNGTTGNL5P1.DTL&type=printable

Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

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California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit in Sacramento

Submitted: Jan 14, 2006

Central Valley and Foothills cattlemen, conservationists, and state and federal resource agency officials held a historic summit Jan. 11 in Sacramento. The all-day conference was called to develop a broad action plan to implement the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Resolution, a statement of joint goals reached last year.

"Today we have embarked upon a historic partnership to preserve and enhance California's working landscapes," said California Cattlemen's Association President Mark Nelson. "The California Rangeland Resolution serves as the foundation of an extraordinary partnership between ranchers, environmentalists and governmental agencies ... Our CCA members have a unique standing with respect to the conservation of our state's rangelands, given that ranchers own and/or manage over 30 million acres in California. Given the sheer volume of property managed by ranchers, and the well-documented preference by imperiled species for these properties, it is clear that meaningful species recovery or conservation efforts require the voluntary cooperation of landowners. Put another way, the protection of our state's most valuable natural resources is highly dependent on working partnerships between conservation interests and landowners."

John Hopkins, director of Institute for Ecological Health, said, "The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an exciting and important new venture. The conservation organizations that are signatories to the Coalition's Resolution are very pleased to be working closely with agricultural organizations and a wide array of state and federal agencies in crafting and implementing the important goals of the Resolution.

"Private owned grasslands and oak woodlands around the Central Valley and its surrounding foothills support a stunning variety and abundance of native wildlife and plants. Maintaining the private ranches and their economic viability is essential for the conservation of these critically important natural habitats and their native species.

"This Coalition provides a major opportunity to achieve widespread conservation of rangeland, to aid stewardship and help maintain ranching as a viable way of life. These are steps that are necessary to maintain the many large tracts of grasslands and oak woodlands that are vital to the future of our state's wildlife. For example, vernal pool grasslands possess a rich array of endangered and threatened animals and plants that are found nowhere else in the world. The grasslands are home to the highest diversity and density of wintering birds of prey in North America. Oak woodlands are essential for hundreds of vertebrate species."

Hopkins added that, "Two key areas for future action are the 2007 federal Farm Bill and possibilities for additional funds for rangeland conservation in state bond measures." He said that the CCA and the state Farm Bureau have good relations with members of the House and Senate agriculture committees, while environmentalists have good relations with more urban members of Congress. The Coalition, putting "teams of cowboys and environmentalists in Congressional and legislative offices is very politically effective, he said. "Jaws can drop."

Paul Henson, assistant regional director of the California-Nevada US Fish and Wildlife Service office, pledged to add staff to help qualify ranchers for safe harbor agreements. In these agreements, developed in 1999, the Service will issue a permit to ranches to "enhance the propagation or survival" of an endangered or threatened species, once the Service is satisfied that actions undertaken by the landowner produce a "net conservation benefit" to the species.

Bill Chrisman, Director of the state Department of Resources, promised the members of the Coalition that the state would work on ways to streamline environmental regulations to provide certainty in a timely manner, possibly involving changes to the California
Environmental Quality Act.

Ryan Broderick, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, told the Coalition that the large blocks of land held by Valley and Foothills ranchers are "the key" to conservation of endangered and threatened species of animals and plants. In response to a question from Dan Macon, director of the Nevada County Land Trust, Broderick agreed that the future will see more public/private partnerships for the effective management of publicly held land. The CDFG now has tenant farming agreements that are both economical and good stewardship of the land. "The Department of Fish and Game does a lot of farming,” Broderick added.

California benefits less relative to its size and the value of its agricultural output from the federal Farm Bill than the Midwestern grain states do, said Michael Bean, attorney and chair of the Wildlife program for Environmental Defense, a national environmental advocacy organization. California ranchers benefit even less. The Coalition of California ranchers and environmentalists working together, presenting a unified voice before Congress, could yield better federal funding for California ranching.

Henson, (USFWS) added that the resource agencies agree that rangelands need to stay in ranching and that they need to help ranchers stay on the land by "removing regulatory disincentives and getting more funding for conservation easements."

"We have come together as one and must continue to strengthen our bond, CCA President Nelson concluded his address. "We must not let the opportunities presented by this partnership pass us by, and we look forward to transforming the targets defined earlier today into real-world, on-the-ground successes."

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition came to life through the following resolution:

The California Rangeland Resolution

The undersigned recognize the critical importance of California’s privately owned rangelands, particularly that significant portion that encircles the Central Valley and includes the adjacent grasslands and oak woodlands, including the Sierra foothills and the interior coast ranges. These lands support important ecosystems and are the foundation for the ranching industry that owns them.

WHEREAS, these rangelands include a rich and varied landscape of grasslands, oak woodlands, vernal pools, riparian areas and wetlands, which support numerous imperiled species, many native plants once common in the Central Valley, and are home to the highest diversity and density of wintering raptors anywhere in North America;

WHEREAS, these rangelands are often located in California’s fastest-growing counties and are at significant risk of conversion to development and other uses;

WHEREAS, these rangelands, and the species that rely on these habitats, largely persist today due to the positive and experienced grazing and other land stewardship practices of the ranchers that have owned and managed these lands and are committed to a healthy future for their working landscapes;

WHEREAS, these rangelands are a critical foundation of the economic and social fabric of California’s ranching industry and rural communities, and will only continue to provide this important working landscape for California’s plants, fish and wildlife if private rangelands remain in ranching;

THEREFORE, we declare that it is our goal to collaboratively work together to protect and enhance the rangeland landscape that encircles California’s Central Valley and includes adjacent grasslands and oak woodlands by:

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

Working to recover imperiled species and enhancing habitat on rangelands while seeking to minimize regulations on private lands and streamline processes;

Supporting the long-term viability of the ranching industry and its culture by providing economic, social and other incentives and by reducing burdens to proactive stewardship on private ranchlands;

Increasing private, state and federal funding, technical expertise and other assistance to continue and expand the ranching community’s beneficial land stewardship practices that benefit sensitive species and are fully compatible with normal ranching practices;

Encouraging voluntary, collaborative and locally-led conservation that has proven to be very effective in maintaining and enhancing working landscapes;

Educating the public about the benefits of grazing and ranching in these rangelands.

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD

Alameda County Board of Supervisors

American Land Conservancy

California Cattlemen’s Association

California Resources Agency

California Wildlife Foundation

Central Valley Land Trust Council

Bureau Land Management

Defenders of Wildlife

Butte Environmental Council

Environmental Defense

California Audubon Society

Institute for Ecological Health

California Cattlemen’s Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service

California Dept of Fish and Game

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

California Dept of Food and Ag

San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

California Farm Bureau Federation

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

California Native Grasslands Association

The Nature Conservancy

California Native Plant Society

Trust for Public Land

California Oak Foundation

US Fish and Wildlife Service

California Rangeland Trust

US Forest Service

California Resource Conservation Districts

VernalPools.org

Wildlife Conservation Board

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Timing is everything

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

While some in Merced scratch their heads and chew their pencil erasers trying to comment on a large Riverside Motorsports Park Master Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Report and others don their black RMP caps to rally in support of the track, John Condren, CEO of RMP, and Kenny Shepherd, RMP president, take their dog-and-pony show to Tracy to talk about the wonders of an expanded Altamont Speedway and about expanding their lease on the Speedway from two to 10 years.

Although these guys are too cute by half, in their various pitches here and there about the Valley, they manage to drop things.

“We’ve had more tracks close in the past 12 months than in the entire period (from) 1975 to 2005,” he said. With Stockton 99 due to close at the end of 2006 “we cannot afford to lose another track, so we stepped up to the plate.”

Timing is everything. Condren is a talented man. Perhaps, given the timing, he should consider promoting bicycle tracks, popular during the McKinley administration, widely adored by the present administration at war for oil and the right to torture anyone to get more of it.

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

Changes come to local raceway
Christopher H. Roberts

Tracy Press -- Jan. 6, 2005

Major changes are afoot at Altamont.

Just three weeks after the surprise announcement that Riverside Motorsports Park, LLC, of Atwater are the Altamont raceway’s new managers, the company’s CEO and president revealed the vision for the track’s future at a meeting Thursday in Tracy.

Among the planned improvements are a new Musco lighting system, membership in NASCAR, a remodeled pit area, effective wind-screens and the ability to convert the quarter-mile oval track into 27 different street courses.

Riverside, currently in the middle of a $230 million racetrack construction project in Merced, chose to take on the added burden of managing and improving Altamont for the overall good of the sport, CEO John Condren said.

“We’ve had more tracks close in the past 12 months than in the entire period (from) 1975 to 2005,” he said. With Stockton 99 due to close at the end of 2006 “we cannot afford to lose another track, so we stepped up to the plate.”

The meeting began with a blend of urgency and fatalism.

“Motorsports is in trouble,” Riverside president and former racer Kenny Shepard said. “If we don’t do something, Altamont will be a business park in two years.”

“Failure is not an option,” Condren said.

To explain the business side of the venture, Condren and Shepard used a mix of racing talk and corporate speak.

Condren announced that the days of one event a week at Altamont are over, as a wider variety of events spread over three to five days make for “multiple revenue streams.”

“I like to call this a paradigm shift,” he said.

However, many racers present raised fears that their particular racing classes would be phased out at Altamont, fears that neither Condren nor Shepard allayed.

“We’re looking at what’s going to work for the next 10 years,” Condren said. “If your class gets eliminated
— I’m sorry.”

The problems that have plagued Altamont for years — shoddy lighting, primitive pits and the legendary high winds — were specifically addressed.

And news that a new Musco lighting system was already on the way drew a round of applause.

Still, the 200-odd assembled drivers, mechanics and racing fans were skeptical at first.

“These are promises we’ve heard before,” Ken Benhamou of Pleasanton said to Condren. “You’ve got a big task ahead of you — if you make promises, I want to see you commit.”

To this, Condren pointed to the $1.5 million already invested by Riverside in Altamont as proof that the new management will stay for longer than the initial two-year lease.

He also emphasized the large amount of work already done.

“We’ve moved a mountain in three weeks” since signing the agreement to lease the track, Condren said.
The plan is simple at its core.

“The goal is to get the stands full,” Shepard said. “This conversation means nothing if that track is a
ghost town.”

To do that, Riverside will need to make sure Altamont’s image becomes much more ubiquitous.

“A lot of people in this town don’t know that the track is still around,” Gayle Widgay of Tracy said.

Condren and Shepard assured that a sophisticated marketing plan is already under way, including extensive media advertising and corporate sponsorships.

The professionalism seemed to encourage those present that 2006 would truly usher in a new era at Altamont, and any fears held going into the meeting were relieved — at least for now.

“They seem like real businessmen,” racer Ryan Steele of Pleasanton said. “Not just some old guys running a track. And that’s what Altamont needs.”

http://www.tracypress.com/sports/2006-01-06-raceway.php

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POW/Raptor comment letter on Riverside Motorsports Park draft environmental impact report

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

From: Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
Modesto CA 95350

To: Mr. James Holland January 6, 2006

Merced County Planning Department
2222 M St.
Merced, California 95340 Emailed
Fax: (209) 726-1710

Re: Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report, Riverside Motorsports Park – General Plan Amendment No. 03005,Zone Change No 03007, State Clearinghouse # 2003071138

Dear Mr. Holland,

We are commenting on the DEIR of the Riverside Motorsports Park.

This project, as meticulously described in detail in the DEIR, does not need the flexibility provided by a special zoning designation. Therefore we object to the development plan zoning designation. This proposed major auto raceway, with great cumulative impacts on the environment of Merced County, should, under no conditions, be permitted to change its plan subject only to the administrative approval of a new, out-of-state director of Development Services.

The DEIR is so narrowly focused on the needs of the project that it fails to even consider the broader impacts the project would have to natural resources, public health and safety and infrastructure needs.

We found it unacceptably confusing that the master plan didn’t coordinate in any obvious way with the DEIR.

Until the county General Plan is properly updated, even to consider the number of possible amendments this project would be asking for is irresponsible land-use planning. Currently, the County is claiming an update in 1995. This is not true; it was amended. An amendment is not a comprehensive update. Since then, a number of other amendments have so warped the General Plan that it is now admitted by all to be a useless policy document.

The County has yet to coordinate responsibly with other jurisdictions on other projects like the Bellevue Corridor and the Atwater/Merced Expressway Project.

Racetracks have a history of failure and this one is competing with several major tracks in nearby counties, including Laguna Seca and Sears Point. Proponents require special zoning that will give them extreme flexibility, despite the apparent level of detail and narrow focus of this DEIR. Under the master plan, changes can simply be made by administrative decision of the director of Development Services. Given these three factors, we must consider the probability that this RMP is a holding pattern, just like a golf course, and that at any time, at the administrative discretion of the director of Development Services, the project can be converted, at taxpayer expense, into commercial development, part of a commercial corridor.

The environmental checklist is so over defined by the needs of the project, as opposed to the needs of the environment, that the proposed mitigations and the lack mitigations fail to reach the standard of a competent DEIR, leaving the public and the resource agencies unable to accurately address this project.

Growth is happening in this area in a haphazard, unplanned way. The impacts from this growth have not been taken into consideration in this DEIR. Mitigation measures in this DEIR defer responsibility to other plans, which, like the regional water plan anticipated for six years, are plans to make plans, for example the Traffic and Circulation Management Plan on page 4-31 of the Master Plan. Mixed in with these plans to make plans, are concrete proposals, such as the creation of a new road, Riverside Drive, without any analysis or alternatives.

This document provides no proof for its claim that there will be no impact to wildlife and habitat from the project.

The document displays a faulty understanding of environmental benefit, for example, on p. 4-2 of the Master Plan.

There is no analysis of the pharmaceutical and solvent content of wastewater proposed to be used in the project.

These documents rely on the infrastructure of the former Castle Air Force Base, yet there is no discussion of this infrastructure or its environmental condition.

We have been consistently involved in this area of the county for a number of years, and have provided the County with numerous public comments on environmental concerns.

We are reserving the right to submit additional information at the time of the public hearing on the FEIR.

In conclusion, we support the no-project alternative because this project fails meet CEQA standards and the county’s current, out-dated general plan.

Respectfully submitted,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

cc: Interested parties
William Hatch, Badlandsjournal.com

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Vroooom!

Submitted: Jan 02, 2006

A fine example of pro-racetrack poison penmanship appeared in the Merced Sun-Star on Friday. It is offered with a few questions in reply below.

Critics' motives are tainted

Editor: I'm getting very concerned with the ulterior motives of the few but very vocal detractors of the Riverside Motorsports Park facility. Much of what they write is conjecture; the rest is simply untrue.

What are the real reasons they push so hard against such a facility that can add millions of dollars in tax revenues that can then be spent on University of California, Merced, programs, working with RMP as a test lab, to solve some of the problems these people claim to represent? What are they really after?

Many are the same who opposed UC Merced. For that, I would say that RMP is keeping very good company. However they did delay UC Merced's opening for a long time, and when you Google some of the opposing organizations, all you get is a page full of lawsuits and out-of-court settlements. I haven't seen where any of that ill-gotten gain has been spent to solve water or air quality problems. I do see in the environmental impact report that RMP has a plan to save water. If some of our problems are solved, do the detractors lose a source of income?

They are even attacking backers now, claiming that backers are in it for the big bucks. I'm a backer, and I don't stand to gain a dime. We just want a facility that we can be proud of, and this one is like no other in the country.

Speaking of big bucks, where do you suppose all that money from litigation went? To fund a letter writing smear campaign?

DAVID WOOD

Let's try a few simple questions on this smear by Mr. Wood. What ulterior motives would opponents of the racetrack have other than trying to protect their air quality in one of the top two worst air basins in the nation? What ulterior motive would they have beyond trying to avoid incredible traffic congestion and noise?

What's the connection between any tax millions the track might earn and the UC campus? Is he conjecturing that sales taxes will flow from one to the other? The track folks have been suggesting lately a win-win public/private partnership with UC on automotive problems. But I am not familiar with any statements made by UC about this partnership. Have I missed something? Has the UC Merced chancellor endorsed Riverside Motorsports Park?

Where does Wood get the idea that the people who oppose the track are many of the very few people who opposed UC Merced? Where has Wood found a website or any other information describing any out-of-court settlements between UC Merced and opponents? What is he talking about?

Isn't the RMP track similar to the major NASCAR track at Sears Point, about 100 miles from Merced? Aren't the RMP people already exploring a backup plan to expand the old Altamont track near Tracy, which they now manage? How would Mr. Wood know the proposed track "is like no other in the country"? Has he been to the other tracks in the country or is he relying on RMP's Mr. Condren's sales pitch?

Is Mr. Wood just very badly informed or is he deliberately lying on behalf of the racetrack? It doesn't matter because the damage is done. He's made a mean fool of himself in print to anyone who knows anything about the areas he covers in his letter.

But, mean foolishness is all part of this project. The fundamental problem is that the proposed facility -- quite aside from its obvious environmental impacts -- is a temple to denial of reality, like the Iraq War. With more than 2,100 American dead and 16,000 wounded, and around 30,000 Iraqi confirmed dead, we are losing a war lies got us into so that US oil companies could exploit those resources to make gasoline for our cars. Is the motive behind the pagan ritual of stockcar racing (What would Jesus drive?) that as long as the worshippers can see the cars zooming around the tracks, they can forget the reality of shrinking natural resources that will steadily erode the quality of life for all of us?

Kurt Vonnegut summed it up nicely:

"We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on." -- http://www.counterpunch.com/swanson12272005.htm

Personally, I like the idea suggested recently that we should have a racetrack as long as all the racecars on it are solar-powered.

Bill Hatch

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Reform mood hits Valley

Submitted: Dec 19, 2005

Appropriate for the worst air quality basin in the nation, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District last week decided the Valley would be the first region in the nation where developers must pay an air pollution fee for the new homes they build. While the amount of the fee, less than $800, which can be reduced by various mitigating factors, is a token that will be entirely passed on to home buyers, it establishes an important principle.

The Valley air pollution fee on new development acknowledges that the public has been subsidizing new development in the Valley as air pollution descended to Los Angeles standards and is now worse in some years. The Valley public has subsidized the new development with its own health, particularly the health of its most vulnerable citizens – children and the elderly. It has subsidized development with higher health care spending. The Valley public has subsidized growth in terms of deteriorating water quality and supply, sewer, water and road expansions. Valley children have subsidized growth by attending over-crowded, deteriorating public schools.

The Valley public has subsidized urban sprawl politically through the loss of representation of its elected officials, who for years have been distracted from their obligations to the general public by their obligations to developers, who make up the largest part of their campaign financing. The system whereby any developer, from the University of California to the national homebuilders to sand-and-gravel miners, automatically indemnifies the local land-use authority (city or county) from paying its own legal costs if the public sues the jurisdiction for violations of environmental law or public process has protected local land-use decision-makers from taking financial responsibility for decisions appellate court judges on occasion find absurd – unless the University of California is involved. How could UC say or do anything absurd?

Valley children are paying the highest price. Not permitted recess periods during the increasing number of bad air days; their asthma rate is a regional disgrace. What may be producing action on the air quality front is that childhood asthma has no decent respect for income levels, affecting the rich as well as the poor children of the Valley. But, due to developer political rigging in Sacramento, the children also pay because the developers do not pay an adequate amount of money for schools to keep up with growth.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board recently refused to be intimidated by a Hilmar Cheese legal/public-relations campaign to make it back off fining the “largest cheese factory in the world” $4 million for polluted ground water. The board will soon hold a scooping meeting and public workshop to examine agricultural pesticide discharges into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Tracy, hometown of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, under national attack for months,

authorized spending $60,000 to hire a consultant to write a plan that will identify potentially available land encircling the city's limits and address how the city can pay to keep that land pristine. If adopted, residents may continue to see acres of farmland and trees around town instead of unbridled roadways, rooftops and restaurants. (1)

It might be that the Pombo dynasty of real estate farmers is losing its grip on Tracy government. The leader of the local slow-growthers is Celeste Garamendi, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi’s sister.

The Stockton Record editorialized on Dec. 16 about preserving the Williamson Act to preserve agricultural land.

For 40 years, extraordinary measures have been taken to protect California farmland. This commitment is critically important now -- Since 1965, the Williamson Act has been the No. 1 device for conserving California's 30 million acres of agricultural land. More and more, its protections are under assault as homebuilders, developers and farmers seek ways to circumvent its restrictions. The Williamson Act is a relatively modest program that has been successful in protecting and preserving agricultural land in a state whose economy depends so heavily upon it. It's been especially important in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. There's no reason it shouldn't remain California's agricultural sentinel for 40 more years. (20)

Modesto Bee editor Marc Vashe wrote a tribute to Ralph Brown, former speaker of the state Assembly from Modesto, who wrote the Brown Act protecting the public’s right to access to governmental decisions. Brown retired after a successful legislative career of nearly 20 years, the last three as Assembly speaker. Jesse Unruh succeeded him. John Williamson was elected to the state Assembly in the early 1960s from Bakersfield. He seemed only to have served long enough to get the agricultural conservation law passed, when only years later came to bear his name.

Little is heard from the other half of the bipartisan environmental law gutting team that farmers are calling O Pomboza, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. A consortium of local, state and national groups filed suit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service yet again last week on its latest truncated, politically coerced, critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered and threatened species living in or close to the vernal pool wetlands. The largest fields of contiguous vernal pools in the nation lie in Cardoza’s district. So far, his several bills to damage or destroy the designation under the Endangered Species Act have failed but his finger prints are visible on the various slashed versions of the designation since Cardoza went to Congress in 2003.

Meanwhile, The Shrimp Slayer has a bit of a mess on his hands in his local office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. A few weeks ago, the county announced Ruben Castillo, county counsel, would be leaving, after a lackluster defense of county policies in a number of lawsuits. Today, the rumor was that Planning Director Bill Nicholson has been demoted to assistant planning director. The new planning director, the story goes, comes from fast-growing Henderson, Nevada, where (s)he has doubtlessly burned the midnight oil studying the California Environmental Quality Act.

And UC Merced still does not have its Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand northward onto the Virginia Smith Trust land where its Long Range Development Plan said it would. This leaves the option of expanding onto the land presently designated for the University Community.

Cardoza, whose political mentors appear to be Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho and Pombo, has worked hard to corrupt both the Brown and the Williamson acts in Merced County on behalf of UC Merced and developers. That kind of reputation might be coming around to bite him if the reform mood surfacing in the Valley gathers any momentum.

Notes:

(1) Tracy to plan for open spaces...Rick Brewer...12-18-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051218&Category=NEWS0101&ArtNo=512180351&SectionCat=&Template=printart

(2) Keep saving the land...Editorial...12-16-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051216&Category=OPED01&ArtNo=512160333&SectionCat=&Template=printart

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Environmental groups sue Interior again on vernal pool critical habitat

Submitted: Dec 17, 2005

December 13, 2005
Broad Coalition of Conservation Organizations Challenges Inadequate Habitat Protections for Wetland Species and Habitats
Note: A PDF copy of the complaint is available at: http://becnet.org/documents/complaint_vernal_pool_200512.pdf

Chico, CA – Butte Environmental Council, the California Native Plant Society, Defenders of Wildlife, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Vernalpools.Org, and Sierra Foothillls Audubon Society have filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of the Interior over its second, Final Vernal Pool Critical Habitat Rule for 15 endangered and threatened vernal pool plants and animals found in California and Oregon. On August 11, 2005 Interior designated 858,846 acres of critical habitat in the Final Rule, eliminating almost 900,000 acres that were proposed in the original 2002 Draft Rule. The 2005 rule is a result of litigation also filed by some the current plaintiffs over the elimination of more than one million acres of VPCH for the 15 species and five entire counties.

In the 2005 final critical habitat designation, Interior unlawfully relied upon a flawed analysis of economic impacts that overestimated potential costs of critical habitat designation, as well as underestimated and disregarded potential benefits of designation. Additionally, Interior unlawfully excluded many areas, including National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and lands overlapping with habitat conservation plans, based on inadequate existing protections.

“While Interior added some VPCH to the five excluded counties, others like Placer and Stanislaus were decimated based on a political agenda, not economics, which leaves them open to this legal challenge,” stated Barbara Vlamis, Executive Director of Butte Environmental Council (see charts below). “Not only did Interior’s Economic Analysis overstate economic costs, it also ignored the economic benefits associated with the protection of vernal pool grasslands, such as providing educational and recreational opportunities, infrastructure support services, ranching, tourism, and economy of scale by covering 15 species in one rule,” declared Vlamis.

To illustrate the overstated conclusions in the Economic Analysis, Butte County’s projected costs were $152 million over 20 years. Even if one accepts the economic methods used, which the plaintiffs do not, this translates into a microscopic 0.17% per year when compared with the annual economic output of the county, $7.36 billion (IMPLAN 2001). “Excluding any of the proposed VPCH is not justified by the economic analysis that led to this Rule,” stated Carol Witham, President of the California Native Plant Society.

Designating critical habitat for federally listed species is important for the recovery of listed species because it clearly identifies the areas essential for their recovery. These critical habitat maps are essential to providing information for statewide and local conservation planning efforts. “The decision to eliminate nearly 1 million acres of vernal pool critical habitat, including lands in Fresno, Placer, San Luis Obispo, Stanislaus, and Tehama counties, may very well prevent the recovery of these 15 imperiled species,” stated Kim Delfino, California Program Director, Defenders of Wildlife. “At a minimum, it means its open season again for developers for those excluded vernal pool grasslands,” continued Delfino.

If recovery is to occur, the remaining range of the 15 vernal pool species must not only be protected, it must expand. Vernal pools are unique depressional wetlands that fill and dry every year. The eight endangered and seven threatened species are currently listed due to the severity of vernal pool destruction in California and Oregon. As the 2002 Proposed Rule indicated, noted vernal pool expert Robert Holland estimates that close to 75% of the Central Valley’s vernal pool habitat was lost by 1997; the central coast has lost at a minimum 90%; southern California’s losses exceed 95%; and Oregon has had 60% destroyed with 18% of the extant habitat considered intact (2002). More recent estimates place the habitat losses at over 90% throughout the historic range of vernal pools (Wright 2002).

Contacts
Butte Environmental Council
Barbara Vlamis, Executive Director
(530) 891-6424

California Native Plant Society
Carol Witham, President
(916) 452-5440

Defenders of Wildlife
Kim Delfino, California Program Coordinator
(916) 313-5800

San Joaquin Raptor and Wildlife Rescue Center
Lydia Miller, President
(209) 723-9283

Vernalpools.Org
Carol Witham
(916) 452-5440

Sierra Foothillls Audubon Society
Ed Pandolfino, Placer County Conservation Chair
(916) 486-9174

Background

A January 14, 2002 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirming the protection of four federally listed fresh water crustaceans under the Endangered Species Act. The species were listed under the Endangered Species Act by the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in September 1994. The California Building Industry Association sued to try to reverse the species’ protection in 1995. Two California organizations, the Butte Environmental Council (BEC) and the Environmental Defense Center of Santa Barbara, supported the listings as interveners all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court of Columbia issued the initial ruling on July 29, 1997 that rejected the BIA request to de-list the shrimp, but his decision supported their petition requiring the Service to designate critical habitat for the shrimp species. When the Service failed to respond to the court’s direction, BEC sued on April 12, 2000 for critical habitat designation for the four crustaceans. On February 9, 2001, the District Court for the eastern district of California ordered the Service to complete a final critical habitat designation for the crustaceans. The Service requested an extension of one year past the court ordered deadline and BEC concurred when the negotiations created a more comprehensive benefit for the habitat by including 11 vernal pool plant species.

On August 6, 2003 the Bush administration issued the final critical habitat rule and justified the removal of one million acres and six counties on economic grounds. Their analysis was feeble and concentrated almost exclusively on the economic costs over the economic benefits, illuminating its bias. The list of economic benefits of the critical habitat designation that were ignored by Washington is quite extensive and includes flood control, water quality, tourism, animal husbandry, hunting, recreation, education, and all the species in the food chain. The counties omitted from the 2003 critical habitat designation are: Butte, Madera, Merced, Riverside, Sacramento, & Solano.

The counties with acreage in the 2003 critical habitat designation are: Alameda, Amador, Calaveras, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Mariposa, Mendocino, Modoc, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Plumas, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Joaquin, Shasta, Stanislaus, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo, Yuba, and Jackson County, Oregon.

In January 2004, BEC, the California Native Plant Society, and Defenders of Wildlife filed suit challenging the 2003 VPCH Final Rule over the elimination of more than one million acres of VPCH for the 15 endangered and threatened vernal pool plants and animals and five entire counties.

Table 1. Covered Species Status and Listing Dates

Common Name Scientific Name Date Listed Status
Conservancy fairy shrimp Branchinecta conservatio September 19, 1994 E*
longhorn fairy shrimp Branchinecta longiantenna September 19, 1994 E
vernal pool tadpole shrimp Lepidurus packardi September 19, 1994 E
vernal pool fairy shrimp Branchinecta lynchi September 19, 1994 T*
Butte County meadowfoam Limnanthes floccosa ssp. Californica June 8, 1992 E
Colusa grass Neostapfia colusana March 26, 1997 T
Contra Costa goldfields Lastenia conjugens June 18, 1997 E
Greene's tuctoria Tuctoria greenei March 26, 1997 E
Hairy orcutt Orcuttia pilosa March 26, 1997 E
Hoover’s spurge Chamaesyce hooveri March 26, 1997 T
Sacramento orcutt Orcuttia viscida March 26, 1997 E
San Joaquin Valley orcutt Orcuttia inequalis March 26, 1997 T
Slender orcutt Orcuttia tenuis March 26, 1997 T
Solano grass Tuctoria mucronata September 28, 1978 E
Succulent (or fleshy) owl's clover Castilleja campestris ssp. succunlenta
March 26, 1997 T
(E* = endangered; T*=threatened)

Table 2. 2005 Rule acreage restored to counties indiscriminately omitted in the 2003 rule

County Proposed Acreage 2003 Rule Acreage 2005 Rule Acreage
Butte 58,849 0 24,247
Madera 95,802 0 48,359
Merced 194,335 0 147,638
Sacramento 68,820 0 37,098
Solano 67,961 0 13,415

Table 3. Counties that lost the valuable VPCH designation in the 2005 Rule

County Proposed Acreage 2003 Rule Acreage 2005 Rule Acreage
Fresno 32,218 32,228 19,200
Placer 58,849 32,134 2,580
San Luis Obispo 64,171 64,378 48,134
Stanislaus 132,708 128,035 67,462
Tehama 130,752 130,691 102,837

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Higher education as if students mattered?

Submitted: Dec 11, 2005

The study just released by the University of California, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” (1) is a particularly specious bit of UC/corporate flak, reminiscent of the campaign for UC Merced. The study argues that if you have more college-educated people in your society, you will have less crime and more high-paying jobs. Many economists would suggest that job demand has something to do with the equation – but they didn’t get this grant. A supply of college-educated people of working age less than the job demand for them could be a recipe for extreme job competition, lower wages, higher rates of turnover, social discontent and emigration of a significant portion of a workforce whose education was subsidized by taxpayers. Since what is meant by education in this study is technological training, it’s fair to ask how Californians with technological training compete today with Indians and Asians with comparable training. Ask Silicon Valley, which has been off-shoring California jobs to India and Asia for several decades, as well as importing foreign high tech workers to the Peninsula. San Jose is today a true city of the world, a place larger than California, attracting the best and brightest technological workers of the world.

Training, inventiveness, intelligence and education aren’t the problems facing California. Funded by a group calling itself the Campaign for College Opportunity, which appears to be a front group for the California Business Roundtable, once again, UC is taking an opportunity to recycle unreliable demographic data to make a case for more public spending on UC, with a bit left over for the lesser public institutions of higher learning.

People are tired of this nonsense. It is highly conspicuous waste, meant to doll up a class of “leaders” for their next honoraria. The study was commissioned by the business roundtable, a cabal of banks, insurance companies, developers, land companies, energy companies, construction and engineering firms and miscellaneously wealthy companies like Gap and J.G. Boswell, involved in the world, cotton trade, and the J. Paul Getty Trust, headed by Barry Munitz, former Charles Hurwitz associate and (“chainsaw”) chancellor of the CSU system. The intervening group, Campaign for College Opportunity, is headed by the roundtable’s president, includes a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce vice president, several university officials, a UC regent, union officials and minority group representatives. But the state taxpayers paid for the salaries of the UC researchers to pimp the next college/university building boom, based on demographic assumptions already dubious when they were used to sell UC Merced (2). But, at least then, we knew they were just the usual state Department of Finance figures to support the coming speculative housing bubble. That is now rapidly fading. Evidently, the study indulges in them only because it can. Apparently, it is a UC affectation to demand more public funds, pay exorbitant executive salaries (3), sell its services to whatever the corporate buyer demands, and all without any responsibility to the public that pays for the salaries, the maintenance, repair, and for the thousands of other services, plants and equipment that go to making up public institutions of higher learning from the community college outpost in the remote rural town to UC Berkeley.

Perhaps the cogent business reason for promoting another higher education building boom, paid for by the public, is because new colleges and universities, particularly if located in remote areas, attract suburban development like stables attract horse flies.

Perhaps, the state’s enlightened business roundtable, representing 56 corporations, almost half on the Fortune 500 list, believe that it is essential for us to pay for enough new public higher education institutions so that not one – not one! – potential bio-technician or computer engineer escapes his or her destiny to be trained for entrance into the “new economy;” so that not one potential mortgage lender, predatory credit-card enabler, insurance agent or realtor will slip through the system to become a bum, a mechanic or a handiman in this economy, which our business leaders assure us will continue, generation after generation, through levee breaks, global warming, oil peak, waves of immigration and global competition. We should pay through taxes, tuitions and living expenses to educate the next generation so that not one, but five or ten shall be trained identically, to cut each others’ throats in the high-tech job marketplace of the eternally affluent future of technocracy, sure to continue if only we believe our universities, our business leaders and those they employ in elective governmental posts.

Since the propaganda is coming down so hard on us from this source, I think it might be fair for the public to request that California corporations clean up our air and water, stop building more slurbs, build colleges and universities in other states, subsidize our deprived youth to attend them, pay off the current state budget deficit, and provide adequate energy supplies as long as possible at non-profit rates.

At a time when the state treasury rests firmly in the hands of Wall Street, when rich Californians are not even taxed at the normal level prior to 1993, our business leaders urge more public investment in higher education. Following a period of immense profit-taking, unable to wrap themselves in the flag (sullied by total failure in Iraq), they wrap themselves in the Blue and Gold, the priestly garb of a public university reported to have misplaced 600 pounds of plutonium (3), another $6 million of public funds at Los Alamos National Laboratory (4), and the “distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative stipends, bonuses and other hidden cash compensation to employees” to be investigated by the Legislature in January (3).

Education as if the state’s youth mattered might begin by designing a curriculum around what they will need to survive the economy bequeathed them by our business leaders? This would involve the question: what does California society need from business rather than what business needs from society? This might lead to concerns about the problem of quality of life rather than income levels, in world where even stolen resources are rapidly shrinking and life satisfaction might well have to be found in living a life “simple in means, rich in ends,” as philosopher Arne Naess puts it. The problem of how to educate a generation of youth to face – not just the diminished expectations of our generation – but the radically diminished expectations compelled by resource depletion on theirs – would be worthy of a public university. But that might require a university that felt itself under some obligation to tell the truth to the people of the state rather than to flak its corporate funders’ line. It would require a look at where we are, rather than at the “statistical fantasies” offered by this study. (5)

By contrast, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” seems redolent with privileged irresponsibility, people saying things because they can merely because they are who they are – the ones who got the grant. Perhaps it is a fashionably conspicuous form of madness cultivated in leading academic circles these days.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) http://www.collegecampaign.org/CalROI-ExSum.pdf
(2) http://www.csun.edu/~hfoao102/@csun.edu/csun97_98/csun0223_98/features/wave.html

Said Paul Warren, director of the LAO's education division, "The academic world is saying, 'Panic, panic, panic.' We're saying it's not time to panic.

(3) www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/ c/a/2005/11/30/BAGGQFVT7J1.DTL
(4) www.californiaaggie.com/article/?id=7299
(5) http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/columns/walters/story/13949532p-14784215c.html

The notion of studying the costs and benefits of public higher education is plausible. We should know what maintaining the system is costing taxpayers, what economic benefits flow to society and students from those dollars and what the eventual return to taxpayers might be. We should also be told how the public colleges and universities fit into the state's largely private economy - whether they are training the right number of professionals in the right kinds of fields, for instance, or whether their research is enhancing job creation.

Finally, we should know whether higher and lower education systems, maintained by taxpayers at immense cost - well over $60 billion a year - are meshing well or are wasting money on turf battles and incompatible priorities.

UC professors Henry Brady and Michael Hout, however, merely assume that attending college is a societal benefit and amass their synthetic evidence.

"California is sliding from exceptional to ordinary, from 'great' to 'good enough' (and) our study shows that educational investments can help restore California's greatness and preserve its high quality of life while returning more benefits to the state than they will cost the taxpayers," Brady said in a statement.

Brady and Hout don't tell us whether the economy could absorb the increased number of college attendees and graduates they advocate, or even whether there are substantially more youngsters capable of doing college-level work. While decrying the decline in California's high school graduation and college education rates in relation to other states, they don't explore the factors, such as the huge increase in non-English-speaking students or the immense changes in the California economy, that contribute to those trends. They assume, more or less, that there are many millions of Californians who would attend college if only the taxpayers would foot the bill and that expansion would generate big economic returns.

Finally, Brady and Hout fail to explain this phenomenon: There's no apparent shortage of college-trained workers in California (except in a few highly technical fields), but employers are having a heck of a time recruiting cops, carpenters, nurses, electricians, auto mechanics - even truck drivers. Who's going to do the real work if everyone is getting a college degree?

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The Board

Submitted: Dec 03, 2005

A limited partnership of politicians, developers, agribusiness corporations and the University of California, Merced, appear to have established a unified board of directors composed of three divisions: founding members of the UC Merced Foundation board of trustees, the Great Valley Center board of directors and staff, and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, recently appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In mid-November, UC Merced and the Great Valley Center announced they had merged and that UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey would become the chairman of a downsized GVC board of directors. (1)

Viewed from the perspective of the on-going ecological crisis in the Valley, this group would appear to have been assembled around common interests: the defeat of environmental laws, regulations and local, state and federal agencies mandated to enforce them, dismantling the Valley’s agricultural economy except for its largest agribusiness corporations, and promoting the expansion of UC Merced. This interlocking board of directors is a formidable array of political influence, money and propaganda capacity. Powerful synergies of propaganda, lobbying and funds probably will develop to mold Valley public opinion to accept the worst air pollution in the nation, diminished water supply and quality, the loss of prime farmland, open space and wildlife habitat, the linking of one continual slurb from Stockton to Bakersfield, and UC Merced research guided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in directions both ethically and ecologically offensive.

Some of the problems The Board faces immediately:

Although UC has built the first phase of its Merced campus, federal environmental regulations forced it off the originally donated land of the Virginia Smith Trust onto the former site of a municipal golf course. UC Merced has yet to get federal approval for its plans under the Clean Water Act, regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The regional water quality board rejected Hilmar Cheese’ proposed solution to on-going violations of water quality standards, provoking the ‘world’s largest cheesemaker’ to announce plans to build an even larger plant in Texas. (2)

The San Joaquin Valley is growing almost as fast as Mexico, considerably faster than either California or the US. (3) The worst air-polluted parts of the Valley, mainly around Fresno, now experience endemic child asthma, the highest rates in the state. (4) Sixty percent of the problem is from mobile emissions, the rest from stationary sources. Lately, it has been admitted that dairies are the leading stationary source of air pollution. The growth of the Valley dairy industry is second only to the growth of suburbanization (building sprawling, low-density residential areas also known as slurbs). What is routinely denied about dairy pollution is the contribution of daily, diesel-fueled milk truck traffic. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District also has been looking at charging an air-pollution fee on new construction. And the state Water Reclamation Board recently started to question development on flood plains near Delta levees.

The Valley Board is disturbed by this “unbalanced” regulation.

Then, there is the national political embarrassment of the north Valley congressional delegation, known by local farmers as “O Pomboza," formerly representatives RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

A forthright approach to environmental problems was pioneered last spring by board member Greenlaw “Fritz” Grupe, a prominent San Joaquin County developer. Grupe assembled developers at his Lodi ranch for a joint political fundraiser for O Pomboza. Not long after the fundraiser, the two congressmen jointly authored a bill to gut the Endangered Species Act, with particular attention to critical habitat designations, because their joined districts contain extensive critical habitat for 15 endangered species associated with seasonal wetlands. UC Merced is built on and wishes to expand on the densest concentration of vernal pools in the nation.

Beyond the Pomboza problem, the period of one-party Republican rule seems to be running off its tracks and corruption investigations are becoming popular again. These are stressful times for special interests because it may become unpopular as well as illegal again to actually buy a politician. Public opinion may resent, at least for awhile, the daily spectacle of the richest, most powerful interests purchasing votes from elected toadies, "cultivating leadership," and the whole seedy story of how money buys power to make more money. The fathomless propaganda resources of UC could be invaluable at such a time.

The possibilities for networking and "synergy" (this year's replacement for the old standby -- "win-win, public/private partnerships) on The Board are beyond imagination, however its Executive Committee, composed of those who sit on more than one of its divisions, is small.

Tony Coelho, the former Democratic congressman from Merced, is a member of the founding board of trustees of UC Merced and of the board of Great Valley Center. In his position as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Coelho was so spectacularly corrupt that an ethics committee when his own party controlled the House, investigated personal loans he received from Michael Milken. Wall Street Journal reporter Brooks Jackson wrote a book about Coelho, called Honest Graft. (5) It’s not well read in the Valley, but The Board knows the story well because prominent members were involved. Coelho, like Tom DeLay and other House members currently under investigation, was a political entrepreneur. He may have thought of himself as a pioneer in the theory that politics was just another business, but Jackson reminded us that in fact, Coelho and the Republican campaign funders against whom he competed were just reproducing the political conditions of the McKinley Era, so highly prized by Karl Rove 20 years after Coelho left. Jackson said of Coelho: “In a healthier political setting Coelho could well have become Speaker of the House, possibly a great one. He deserved a better system. So do we all.” (6)

However, his career from beginning to end was shaped by the Valley political system, in which Valley special interests contributed large amounts of money, often to coastal liberal Democratic machines, in return for promises of support on key special interest legislation and to keep liberal policies out of the Valley.

Coelho quit Congress and went to Wall Street. Ecologically, he is known for trying to get two projects into the Valley that environmentalists defeated: a United Technologies rocket factory and a super-collider. According to reliable rumor, he was frequently summoned by Valley interest groups to explain complex issues to his successor, Gary Condit, and Coelho was deeply involved, from the beginning, with siting UC Merced.

He is a brilliant, energetic politician whose ambitions drove him to rise and fall and rise again in local and national political systems none of us deserve.

Grupe was also a member of the founding board of trustees of UC Merced Foundation and last month the governor appointed him deputy chair of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Since 1966, one of Stockton’s two major developers, Grupe now has other credentials. He is a member of the advisory board of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley; and he was past-president and current member of the Urban Land Institute. But Grupe is on The Board because he's a charter member of the political economic system neither Coelho nor we deserved.

Carol Whiteside, founder and president of Great Valley Center, was also a founding member of the UC Merced Foundation. She served on Pete Wilson’s staff and was appointed by him assistant secretary of the state Resources Agency. As mayor of Modesto, Whiteside presided over that city’s most rapid growth period.

Rayburn Dezember, of Bakersfield, currently serves as a director of the Bakersfield Californian and Trustee of the University of California, Merced Foundation. He previously served as chairman of American National Bank from 1966 to 1990, director of Wells Fargo Bank from 1990-1999, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 1984 to 1989 and director of Tejon Ranch Company from 1990-2002. The governor appointed him to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Plans to develop a $57-billion new city on the Tejon Ranch threaten the habitat of one of America’s most endangered species, the California Condor, along with a host of other wildlife species located on the largest piece of private property left in the state. Dezember’s local newspaper, the Californian, has long had a reputation as one of the most rightwing papers in the state.

By chance, it was avian rehabilitators from Merced who started the original Condor Project to save the giant, nearly extinct birds. To date, $35 million has been spent to rescue the condor from extinction. (7) On paper, Dezember is pro-growth, anti-air quality and environment – bad for Bakersfield, bad for the Valley, but a Republican and no doubt excellent contributor to the Hun.

Frederick Ruiz, in the words of a Hun press release, is from “Parlier, has over 40 years experience in the food processing industry. He and his father founded Ruiz Foods in 1964. He has served as a member of the University of California, Board of Regents since 2004. In addition, Ruiz is currently on the board of directors for the California Chamber of Commerce, a trustee on the University of Merced Foundation, a member of the President's Advisory Board of California State University Fresno and a member of Valley CAN ‘Clean Air Now.’ Ruiz is a Republican.”

The Hun replaced Dolores Huerta on the UC regents’ board with Ruiz. Huerta was co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers. Two conjectures: although Huerta looks like a union socialist and Ruiz like an entrepreneurial capitalist, Ruiz Foods received more federal and state grant and loan funding than the UFW ever did; Huerta’s brilliant, committed and sustained community organizing, mainly on behalf of Latino communities in the Valley, did more good for Ruiz Foods than Ruiz Foods ever did for working people who want unions.

Daniel Whitehurst, president, Farewell, Inc. Fresno, was on the founding board of trustees of the UC Merced Foundation and is a member of the GVC board. Whitehurst is a member of a Fresno-based family of extremely political morticians, people of influence since at least the time of late state Sen. Hugh Burns, with old connections to the west side of the Valley.

The Garamendi family presents nearly a two-fer because John Sr., the state Insurance Commissioner now running for state Lt. Governor, is a member of the founding board of the UC Merced Foundation and John, Jr. was appointed vice chancellor for University Relations at UC Merced in June. Family values are important in the Valley.

Agribusiness holds only single memberships, mainly on the UC Merced Foundation board. (8)

Chuck Ahlem, Partner, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar
H.A. "Gus" Collin, Chairman, Sunsweet Growers, Inc., Yuba City
Robert Gallo, President, E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto
John Harris, President, Harris Farms and Harris Inns, Coalinga
William Lyons, Sr., President, Lyons Investments and Mapes Ranch, Modesto
Thomas Smith, President, CALCOT, Bakersfield
Ann Veneman, Attorney at Law, Sacramento (former Secretary of the USDA)
Roger Wood, Vice President, J.R. Wood, Inc., Atwater;
Stewart Woolf, President, Los Gatos Tomato, Inc., Huron

There is a scattering of agricultural producers on the UC Merced Foundation board, along with local businessmen and large landowners:

Carl Cavaiani, President, Santa Fe Nut Company, Ballico
Bert Crane Sr., President, Bert Crane Ranches, Merced;
Jim Cunningham, owner, Cunningham Ranch, LeGrand
James Duarte, President, Duarte Nursery, Inc., Hughson
Price Giffen, President, Giffen Company, Fresno
Art Kamangar, Kamangar Ranches, Merced

Other members include retired UC officials, Silicon Valley executives, lawyers, developers, other educators, investors, public officials and local business people. The Board includes no one from any local, state or national environmental organization. In fact, The Board looks like a special interest reaction against environmental, public health, economic and agricultural concerns to protect its rapid growth strategies. It also looks like a non-elected government.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11495660p-12233968c.html
(2) http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/13919592p-14757777c.html
(3) Dr. Michael Teitz, presentation at Merced City Council Chambers, Dec. 1, 2005
(4) http://www.valleyairquality.com/
(5) Jackson, Brooks, Honest Graft, Knopf, 1988.
(6) Jackson, p. 6
(7) http://www.laweekly.com/ink/05/13/features-zakin.php
(8) http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2000/march1700.htm

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Novel legal theory

Submitted: Dec 02, 2005
Nakayama also forgot to mention that the Bush administration has rewritten the very rules used to prosecute those companies. The Bush version of the rules, which would let power companies off the hook, is being challenged in court by numerous state attorneys general, as well as environmental groups.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for the Bush administration to try to take credit today for enforcing the Clean Air Act's new source review provisions,” notes Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “The Bush EPA has been working overtime to change the underlying clean air rules and prevent such enforcement actions from being brought against dirty power plants in the future."

Nakayama also failed to note that the Bush administration is not only trying to change the rules, but that it recently declared that it would not even enforce the law against the power industry—a move the administration euphemistically described as an effort to “refocus” its activities.

Some big polluters have become so encouraged that they’ve gone to court to seek dismissal of pending charges. It’s as if someone awaiting trial for murder sought freedom on the grounds that prosecutors were going to look the other way in future murder cases. – Frank O’Donnell, TomPaine.com – Dec. 2, 2005

Big polluters and environment destroyers are operating under a new legal theory: if legislation weakening environmental law and regulation might have been pending when they committed their illegal acts under existing law, they might be able to skate. For people interested in rural excursions in Merced County, a trip down White Rock Road in Le Grand from the entrance to the Jaxon Mine all the way to the Madera County line at the Chowchilla River would reveal interesting examples of projects that assume this new legal theory. The idea behind the deep ripping of thousands of acres of seasonal pasture containing protected wildlife habitat seems to be that the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act bill by Congressman R.D. Pomboza, Species Slayer-Tracy/Merced, could get through the Senate, so “let her rip.”

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

Polluter Playtime (1)
Frank O'Donnell
December 02, 2005

Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a 501 (c) 3 non-partisan, non-profit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.

In a move virtually unnoticed by the press corps, the Bush administration this week quietly dropped a lawsuit against a big electric power company.

The suit against Duke Power Company was brought by the Clinton administration, which accused Duke of illegally spewing too much pollution into the air. The Bush team initially gave lip service to continuing the suit, but it shelved the case after a setback in a lower court.

In the process, the administration demonstrated a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly apparent: For a government seemingly obsessed with promoting the “rule of law” everywhere from Iraq to Mongolia, the Bush administration can be pretty loose when it comes to enforcing the law back home.

Especially when it comes to enforcing environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act.

Whether it’s dealing with coal-burning electric plants in the Midwest or auto emission inspections in Ohio and Kentucky, the administration has decided it won’t even attempt to enforce the law if it seems inconvenient to big polluters or to Republican-controlled state governments.

This isn’t a trivial matter. Hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Americans are dying unnecessarily each year as a direct result of the administration’s cavalier disregard for the law.

The administration’s negligence is perhaps topped only by its brazenly false claims about its enforcement prowess. Consider, for example, the hypocritical assertions made last month by Granta Nakayama, the Environmental Protection Agency’s head of enforcement, as the agency issued a status report on its enforcement efforts.

Nakayama (who, until recently, was a corporate lawyer-lobbyist paid to undermine clean air controls) contended that “EPA's enforcement strategy and accomplishments demonstrate our commitment to achieving cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities."

To back his claim, Nakayama cited 10 recently resolved air pollution cases against corporate polluters. Those 10 cases would eliminate 620 million pounds of pollution and bring more than $4.6 billion in public health benefits, including “reductions in premature mortality, bronchitis, hospitalizations and work days lost.”

What Nakayama left out was that half of the results came from cases brought by the Clinton administration. These were prosecutions of electric power companies that violated the law’s “new source review” provisions, which require smokestack industries to modernize pollution controls when they increase emissions.

Nakayama also forgot to mention that the Bush administration has rewritten the very rules used to prosecute those companies. The Bush version of the rules, which would let power companies off the hook, is being challenged in court by numerous state attorneys general, as well as environmental groups.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for the Bush administration to try to take credit today for enforcing the Clean Air Act's new source review provisions,” notes Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “The Bush EPA has been working overtime to change the underlying clean air rules and prevent such enforcement actions from being brought against dirty power plants in the future."

Nakayama also failed to note that the Bush administration is not only trying to change the rules, but that it recently declared that it would not even enforce the law against the power industry—a move the administration euphemistically described as an effort to “refocus” its activities.

Some big polluters have become so encouraged that they’ve gone to court to seek dismissal of pending charges. It’s as if someone awaiting trial for murder sought freedom on the grounds that prosecutors were going to look the other way in future murder cases.

Take, for example, Cinergy, the conglomerate that provides electric power in Ohio and Indiana. Five years ago—in December 2000—Cinergy reached an agreement in principle with the Clinton administration, which had accused it of violating new source review. Cinergy pledged at the time to reduce 1 billion pounds of pollution—more, in other words—than all the “top 10” cases combined that Nakayama boasted about.

But after the 2000 elections, the company refused to sign the deal. Now, Cinergy is asking a court to dismiss the charges because of the Bush administration’s decision not to enforce the law against other companies. Cinergy no doubt will be encouraged by the administration’s change of heart in the Duke case.

The “refocused” Bush policy of non-enforcement unfortunately is spreading like the avian flu to other sources of pollution.

For instance, the states of Kentucky and Ohio recently decided to abolish auto emission inspections in the Cincinnati metropolitan area even though an American Lung Association report documented the area had 19 days this summer with unhealthful air quality.

Auto inspections do help reduce pollution, and EPA rules stipulate that smoggy states such as Ohio and Kentucky can’t just scrap pollution control programs that they don’t like. Except that, once again, the EPA says it’s not going to enforce the law.

“Illegal and irresponsible,” is how the American Lung Association describes the situation.

So you do have to marvel at the chutzpah of an EPA spokeswoman, who recently declared that, “We will continue to rigorously enforce any violations of the nation’s clean air laws.”

Except, that is, when the Bush administration doesn’t feel like it.

Notes

(1) http://www.tompaine.com/articles/20051202/polluter_playtime.php

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