Dairy

Racetrack promotion meets reality on narrow country roads

Submitted: Dec 08, 2006

The Riverside Motorsports Park/Merced County government pitch for a world-class motor sports facility met a political pitchfork from the nation’s second-largest dairy county on Dec. 5, at the county Board of Supervisors public comment period.

In a short, prepared address concluding the comment period, board Chairman Mike Nelson abused a privileged moment by attacking the public. Nelson’s pitch was that the “leadership of the opposition to the racetrack” had a right to its opinion, but RMP also had a right to its opinion.

In fact, RMP’s position is clearly stated in the environmental review process. The purpose of the environmental review process is to get everybody else’s concerns about a project, not just its proponent’s opinions.

This opponent leadership is always “the same people,” Nelson told the public.

In fact, public opposition to this project is growing by the day as it finds out more about the project and its flaws.

Nelson said, “these same people” time and time again, “try to CEQA projects to death.” They don’t like any projects, he said. In Nelson’s opinion, these leaders of the opponents to the RMP are just a bunch a “NIMBYs.”

“Rarely do we hear any alternatives or mitigation measures proposed” by the leaders of the opponents, he said. “But these people don’t speak for the public,” he said, alleging that a poll taken in Atwater showed a majority of its citizens in favor of the track, located at a site adjoining Atwater.

Members of the audience asked Nelson if they could discuss his claims with him.

“No,” Nelson said, gaveling an end to the morning session, prolonged by almost two hours of 5-minute public comments, a time limit rigidly enforced by Nelson.

To say that the opposition is being led by anybody is a factually challenged statement, but characteristic of the Merced County government, entitled as always to its opinion.

Members of the public against the project weren’t stating opinions but were giving their best analysis of basic, drastic facts. The newest angle on the traffic problem came from dairy families and a custom farmer in the district where, RMP traffic consultants anticipate, possibly four days a week, narrow country roads will be jammed with the cars of concert and race spectators. This will interfere with tight harvest and post-harvest handling schedules, particularly in corn, most of which is harvested about the same time. The possibility of traffic jams interfering with harvest schedules quickly turns to the quantity and quality of dairy feed. Presently, dairies are into months of production below cost, which heightens dairymen’s concerns about all costs, and the quantity and quality of their feed. Jamming narrow country roads with out-of-town auto-racing spectators is a threat to the whole region’s agricultural system, which needs those roads for dairy trucks, tractors, harvesting equipment and feed trucks. And that threat doesn’t include the issue of delayed emergency services, which already take a half an hour.

Farmers and ranchers have had to comply with ever-changing environmental regulations on the parts of their operations that pollute air and water. They look at the RMP environmental impact report and see 34 “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts,” and say if regulation is good for agriculture, it is also good for the motor sports industry, at least in Merced, one of the nation’s premiere agricultural counties.

One dairyman said that if it took six years to get the project right, he urged the board to take the six years if necessary. In fact, farming operations have had to wait as long as six years to get environmental compliance. He added that the board will regain the trust of its constituents by taking the time to do it right, rather than losing the trust of the people doing it the way they are doing it.

You might be able to get away with saying, “So-and-so is an eminent leader, and has long been widely recognized in his business domain.” But if you put those two words side-by-side and speak the term, eminent domain, people become justifiably alarmed. Why the secrecy? That should have been part in the environmental review process. Why was this possibility on certain old, narrow country roads only made known to the public after the public hearing on the environmental review was closed?

Nelson ended his prepared address by noting correctly that none of the testimony at Supervisor Diedre Kelsey’s town hall meetings had any legal force because the public hearing on the RMP environmental review has been closed. In reply to a question on that point at her Delhi town hall meeting, Kelsey said that she could gather new information and inform the supervisors in their discussion of the issue when it comes up for a vote. However, important new information that came out of the meetings from county staff, not from the public.

Everything about this project has the appearance of underhanded dealing for the benefit of special interests. In one commission of bureaucratic slight-of-hand, there will be two votes on the zoning changes and the General Plan amendment necessary to approve the EIR, one expressing “intent” to approve on Dec. 12, the other to approve, on Dec. 19. In another act of tricky dealing, the board will take a crucial vote on the Castle airport noise zone on Dec. 12, without which the RMP project cannot move forward. Some members of the public have already publicly argued for the administrative record in the public hearing that the Castle airport must be a part of the RMP environmental review. Dealing with it the way it is doing, the County is fragmenting and piecemealing the environmental review process.

Experienced observers of Merced County government notice that this sort of bureaucratic trickery reinforces the public opinion that this government is either incompetent, corrupt or both. The learned “experts” on the staff arise and “explain” to the public their ridiculous bureaucratic shenanigans as if they were the latest thing in good planning.

Meanwhile, in the backroom, a select group of representatives of broad-based public organizations receive doses of political cynicism and political impotence from supervisors. It all boils down to the same message: “We are the government. You are the public. We work for special interests. We and special interests win. The public and the Public Trust lose.”

Yet another act of bureaucratic trickery is the indemnification agreement between the County and RMP, which commits RMP to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits the public might bring against the project. In response to a public request to view the indemnification agreement, the County produced an agreement, signed by RMP but unsigned by the County. Approval of the RMP indemnification agreement is on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for Dec. 12.

The Castle airport issue is another bureaucratic hinky wrinkle in the public process. The last we heard, it needed a 4-1 vote to pass. Without it, the RMP project is stopped. It is an intrinsic part of the RMP project that is not considered in the RMP environmental review. Will Kelsey, the hero de jour, stand up for proper public process and vote against it? Will she get another vote against it?

With one stunning exception, important new information has not come from the public from the town hall meetings in either Ballico, Delhi, Winton or the Merced River Corridor. The new information, mainly about anticipated traffic patterns and the eminent domain problem, came from county staff at the town hall meetings. However, the claim by opponents of the project that neither county staff nor project consultants had considered the number of schools located on those narrow country roads is genuinely new, important information concerning the health and safety of children, apart from the broader issue of increased air pollution.

So, where does that leave the public, which Nelson says the opponents of the project cannot speak for, and the project? The California Environmental Quality Act is state law and lays out a procedure for making and voting on EIRs. That procedure includes a public hearing period. The board held one public hearing two weeks ago. Nelson is right: the town hall meetings and the Dec. 5 public-comment period testimony don’t matter for the purposes of CEQA..

It’s clear that public debate is opening up new questions and new information. Yet the public hearing under CEQA is closed. There is an adequate amount of factual information in the official record for the supervisors to reopen the public hearing.

“Time plus integrity produces answers,” one member of the public told the supervisors.

Nelson appeared to be running a campaign for himself rather than chairing a county board of supervisors on a serious issue about a project whose environmental and economic studies are very far from adequate to describe its impacts. Yet, he speaks for the board, identifying a conspiracy of environmental radicals behind every member of the public getting up to express her or his anxiety and anger about the RMP project.

The apparent critic of the project on the board, Kelsey, may be providing toothless forums in her districts for people with serious concerns about RMP impacts, but she is hardly a leader of opposition to the project. If she were, she would not be publicly claiming whenever and wherever possible that she hasn’t made her mind up how she will vote. And she would have moved to keep the public hearing open before it was closed. In fact, the public needs to be very careful about Kelsey, because what we might be seeing here is merely political rivalry between two Republicans seeking higher office jerking around public concerns.

One member of the public chastised Nelson for being rude to a previous speaker. Nelson replied coldly that his comment had been noted.

Where were the other supervisors today? Why weren’t they stepping up and defending the public process? Where is Congressman Cardoza or his staff, state Sen. Jeff Denham or Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani or Matthews or their staffs? The public process by which these massive, environmentally destructive development projects are rubber-stamped in Merced County is broken. It needs the defense of elected officials. It does not need their continual offense.

And, speaking of giving offense to the public process, we include Chairman Nelson’s concluding remarks:

There have been many well meaning, well intentioned leaders of the opposition to the RMP project. I’ve talked to many of them. While we always don’t agree on things (sic) , I have been open to suggestions that they have made. But, just as they have a right to their opinions, the project proponents have a right to their opinions as well.

In my four years on this board, many projects have been proposed. Opponents of this project are many of the same faces we have seen time and time again – those who continually attempt to CEQA projects to death.

You know, CEQA was meant to identify and address environmental concerns. This has been done. The problem appears to me, however, that members of the opposition just don’t like the answers.

I continually hear, “We’re not against racing but the location is wrong,” in essence, “Not In My Back Yard!”

Well, the same can be said for a host of other projects: UC Merced, the UC Community, various housing projects. The list goes on and on.

Rarely do we hear alternatives or mitigations being proposed, other than, “Don’t build it!”

I also keep hearing that many opponents in this audience speak for “the public.”

This is simply not true, at least in District 3.

There was a survey taken back this past spring. Sixty percent of those surveyed were in favor of the project.

The recent call for town hall meetings may be appropriate, however, only with the understanding that public hearings have already been closed on this matter. And, I might point out that there have been many opportunities provided the public to find out about this project.

Next week’s meeting will be a challenge, no doubt. I just hope that the opponents will consider that their opinions are not the only ones that matter.

Thank you.

With that, we’re adjourned for lunch.
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To which, some members of the public reply:

· Nelson and the other supervisors refused to meet with members of the public opposed to the RMP project before the close of the public hearing. Afterwards, town hall meetings were held and supervisors met with known opponents. So what?

· Members of the audience were in many instances not offering opinions but responsible estimates (far more realistic and better informed than the project environmental traffic analysis), based on intimate experience with the transportation system, schools and agricultural schedule of the Delhi-Amsterdam-Winton-Merced River Corridor area. People who made written and oral comments to the RMP environmental review used facts, not opinions, to make their arguments.

· Most of the Merced public has not been involved in any CEQA arguments about development projects in Merced County. There are many new faces among the opponents to the RMP project. (Mr. Nelson is beginning his old rightwing war whoop here -- environmentalist-bashing.)

· An environmental review that leaves 34 environmental impacts “significant and unavoidable” glances at environmental issues; it does not address them.

· To the charge of “Not In My Back Yard,” or “NIMBYism,” one must reply: You bet we are trying to defend our backyard against the corrupt influence of special interests on you and the board. That corrupt influence is ruinous to our air and water quality, our road system, our agricultural operations and our natural resources. It is also dangerous to children.

· CEQA does not require the public to do analysis, mitigation, be experts, or offer alternatives.

· The 60-percent of Atwater residents Nelson alleges were in favor of the RMP project weren’t informed in the survey that the County would invoke eminent domain to widen country roads into Atwater to facilitate traffic from Delhi. They weren’t informed that there was no traffic study. They weren’t informed of the number of schools on those routes. They weren’t asked for their approval of the project despite the disruption it would cause normal agricultural operations in the area. The survey wasn’t included in the RMP environmental review. Who wrote the survey and who conducted it?

· The public has been and is standing, and will stand before the board on this project, the next project, and “on and on.”

· They do have legal standing to bring suits on behalf of the public for County noncompliance with environmental law. Most of the people who submitted written and oral testimony during this meeting, town hall meetings and public hearings on this project, represent themselves, their neighbors and their groups. Most of them could prove harm and adverse impacts from this project within the meaning of a number of environmental statutes and regulations. The same is true for regulatory agencies and staff.

· Mr. Chairman, you may be so narrowly focused on special interests that you cannot listen to public concerns that differ from your views. In lieu of so much as a peep out of them, the public assumes you speak for the rest of the supervisors as well, including Kelsey sitting on her fence. No supervisor objected to your offensive oration after the public spent two hours trying to explain, with facts, the major problems with a motorsports park at that location. No supervisor intervened to protect members of the public from your rudeness and unprofessional conduct during the public comment period. You are the politically incompetent chairman of a politically incompetent board and the Merced public is finding your individual and collective incompetence unacceptable dangers to environmental public health and safety. You have broken public due process in this county.

· In the case of development projects, law, at the Merced County Board of Supervisors, boils down to one area: indemnification and hold harmless agreements that commit the developer to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits brought by the public against abuse of state and federal environmental laws and public process by the County, on behalf of those indemnifying the County. In Merced County, these agreements are being used routinely by local land-use authorities as licenses for environmentally and, in some instances, economically irresponsible land-use decisions. In general, indemnification is a formality because few members of the Merced public have the intestinal fortitude to endure a lawsuit (always accompanied by vilification from public officials, staff and local businessmen).

· You lectured the public who took time off from busy working schedules to come and sincerely tell you their concerns with this project. You use your privileged moment as an opportunity to give them an ideological whipping. You expect us to tolerate political thuggery.

· Mr. Chairman, you are a bully. You are bringing all the contempt for the public in the backroom – from the Planning Department, County Counsel, special interest consultants, supervisors, the offices of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, adjoining your offices – into the board chambers in public session. But the public – concerned, thoughtful, factual – won’t go away just because you choose to trample on the laws and regulations of public process and call the public politically dirty names. The public won’t disappear just because a set of county supervisors chooses to ignore it. The offices you hold and the local land-use authority you have won’t disappear just because you abuse the authority of your office on behalf of special interests rather than in the public interest.

Badlands editorial staff

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Biofuels: a critical perspective

Submitted: Nov 02, 2006

Most people have some trouble developing a critical point of view on an issue without a little help from critics. As it stands in the southern tier of the Pomboza (that part of the district controlled by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Polar Bear/Shrimp Slayer-Merced) biofuel is the hottest technology since the six-foot, deep-ripping chisel, built to tear up seasonal grasslands for temporary orchards and vineyards that will become subdivisions. And we won’t get no help from the newspaper.

Now, Merced dairymen working out their Midwest corn budgets for next year, will complain to each other and their bankers about a price hike, which they are told is the result of competition with biofuel. But farmers are price takers. They are used to it and accept it and don’t try to think about it too much, particularly when milk prices are down below breakeven.

The article below is a good rundown on criticisms of the latest “ecological” fad, biofuels, and should help restore our sane view that Cardoza is the same-old, same-old, ignorant hustler he always has been despite his latest reinvention of himself as a post-Pombo environmentalist with solar panels on his roof.

Bill Hatch

Running on Hype
The Real Scoop on Biofuels
By BRIAN TOKAR
Counterpunch.com – Nov. 1, 2006

You can hardly open up a major newspaper or national magazine these days without encountering the latest hype about biofuels, and how they're going to save oil, reduce pollution and prevent climate change. Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems' Vinod Khosla, and other major venture capitalists are investing millions in new biofuel production, whether in the form of ethanol, mainly derived from corn in the US today, or biodiesel, mainly from soybeans and canola seed. It's literally a "modern day gold rush," as described by the New York Times, paraphrasing the chief executive of Cargill, one of the main benefactors of increased subsidies to agribusiness and tax credits to refiners for the purpose of encouraging biofuel production.

The Times reported earlier this year that some 40 new ethanol plants are currently under construction in the US, aiming toward a 30 percent increase in domestic production. Archer Daniels Midland, the company that first sold the idea of corn-derived ethanol as an auto fuel to Congress in the late 1970s, has doubled its stock price and profits over the last two years. ADM currently controls a quarter of US ethanol fuel production, and recently hired a former Chevron executive as its CEO.

Several well-respected analysts have raised serious concerns about this rapid diversion of food crops toward the production of fuel for automobiles. WorldWatch Institute founder Lester Brown, long concerned about the sustainability of world food supplies, says that fuel producers are already competing with food processors in the world's grain markets. "Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in grain production this year," reports Brown, a serious concern in a world where the grain required to make enough ethanol to fill an SUV tank is enough to feed a person for a whole year. Others have dismissed the ethanol gold rush as nothing more than the subsidized burning of food to run automobiles.

The biofuel rush is having a significant impact worldwide as well. Brazil, often touted as the the most impressive biofuel success story, is using half its annual sugarcane crop to provide 40 percent of its auto fuel, while increasing deforestation to grow more sugarcane and soybeans. Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests are being bulldozed for oil palm plantations-threatening endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers and countless other species-in order to serve at the booming European market for biodiesel.

Are these reasonable tradeoffs for a troubled planet, or merely another corporate push for profits? Two new studies, both released this past summer, aim to document the full consequences of the new biofuel economy and realistically assess its impact on fuel use, greenhouse gases and agricultural lands. One study, originating from the University of Minnesota, is moderately hopeful in the first two areas, but offers a strong caution about land use. The other, from Cornell University and UC Berkeley, concludes that every domestic biofuel source ­ the ones currently in use as well as those under development ­ produces less energy than is consumed in growing and processing the crops.

The Minnesota researchers attempted a full lifecycle analysis of the production of ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy. They documented the energy costs of fuel production, pesticide use, transportation, and other key factors, and also accounted for the energy equivalent of soy and corn byproducts that remain for other uses after the fuel is extracted. Their paper, published in the July 25th edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that ethanol production offers a modest net energy gain of 25%, resulting in 12% less greenhouse gases than an equivalent amount of gasoline. The numbers for biodiesel are more promising, with a 93% net energy gain and a 41% reduction in greenhouse gases.

The researchers cautioned, however, that these figures do not account for the significant environmental damage from increased acreages of these crops, including the impacts of pesticides, nitrate runoff into water supplies, nor the increased demand on water, as "energy crops" like corn and soy begin to displace more drought tolerant crops such as wheat in several Midwestern states.

The most serious impact, though, is on land use. The Minnesota paper reports that in 2005, 14% of the US corn harvest was used to produce some 6 million gallons of ethanol, equivalent to 1.7% of current gasoline usage. About 1 1/2 percent of the soy harvest produced 120 million gallons of biodiesel, equivalent to less than one tenth of one percent of gas usage. This means that if all of the country's corn harvest was used to make ethanol, it would displace 12% of our gas; all of our soybeans would displace about 6% of the gas. But if the energy used in producing these biofuels is taken into account ­ the fact that 80% of the energy goes into production in the case of corn ethanol, and almost 50% in the case of soy biodiesel, the entire soy and corn crops combined would only satisfy 5.3% of current fuel needs. This is where the serious strain on food supplies and prices originates.

The Cornell study is even more skeptical. Released in July, it was the product of an ongoing collaboration between Cornell agriculturalist David Pimentel, environmental engineer Ted Patzek, and their colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, and was published in the journal Natural Resources Research. This study found that, in balance, making ethanol from corn requires 29% more fossil fuel than the net energy produced and biodisel from soy results in a net energy loss of 27%. Other crops, touted as solutions to the apparent diseconomy of current methods, offer even worse results.

Switchgrass, for example, can grow on marginal land and presumably won't compete with food production (you may recall George Bush's mumbling about switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union speech), but it requires 45% more energy to harvest and process than the energy value of the fuel that is produced. Wood biomass requires 57% more energy than it produces, and sunflowers require more than twice as much energy than is available in the fuel that is produced. "There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," said David Pimentel in a Cornell press statement this past July. "These strategies are not sustainable." In a recent article, Harvard environmental scientist Michael McElroy concurred: "[U]nfortunately the promised benefits [of ethanol] prove upon analysis to be largely ephemeral."

Even Brazilian sugarcane, touted as the world's model for conversion from fossil fuels to sustainable "green energy," has its downside. The energy yield appears beyond question: it is claimed that ethanol from sugarcane may produce as much as 8 times as much energy as it takes to grow and process. But a recent World Wildlife Fund report for the International Energy Agency raises serious questions about this approach to future energy independence. It turns out that 80% of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come not from cars, but from deforestation-the loss of embedded carbon dioxide when forests are cut down and burned. A hectare of land may save 13 tons of carbon dioxide if it is used to grow sugarcane, but the same hectare can absorb 20 tons of CO2 if it remains forested. If sugarcane and soy plantations continue to encourage deforestation, both in the Amazon and in Brazil's Atlantic coastal forests, any climate advantage is more than outweighed by the loss of the forest.

Genetic engineering, which has utterly failed to produce healthier or more sustainable food-and also failed to create a reliable source of biopharmaceuticals without threatening the safety of our food supply-is now being touted as the answer to sustainable biofuel production. Biofuels were all the buzz at the biotech industry's most recent biotech mega-convention (April 2006), and biotech companies are all competing to cash in on the biofuel bonanza. Syngenta (the world's largest herbicide manufacturer and number three, after Monsanto and DuPont, in seeds) is developing a GE corn variety that contains one of the enzymes needed to convert corn starch into sugar before it can be fermented into ethanol. Companies are vying to increase total starch content, reduce lignin (necessary for the structural integrity of plants but a nuisance for chemical processors), and increase crop yields. Others are proposing huge plantations of fast-growing genetically engineered low-lignin trees to temporarily sequester carbon and ultimately be harvested for ethanol.

However, the utility of incorporating the amylase enzyme into crops is questionable (it's also a potential allergen), gains in starch production are marginal, and the use of genetic engineering to increase crop yields has never proved reliable. Other, more complex traits, such as drought and salt tolerance (to grow energy crops on land unsuited to food production), have been aggressively pursued by geneticists for more than twenty years with scarcely a glimmer of success. Genetically engineered trees, with their long life-cycle, as well as seeds and pollen capable of spreading hundreds of miles in the wild, are potentially a far greater environmental threat than engineered varieties of annual crops. Even Monsanto, always the most aggressive promoter of genetic engineering, has opted to rely on conventional plant breeding for its biofuel research, according to the New York Times. Like "feeding the world" and biopharmaceutical production before it, genetic engineering for biofuels mainly benefits the biotech industry's public relations image.

Biofuels may still prove advantageous in some local applications, such as farmers using crop wastes to fuel their farms, and running cars from waste oil that is otherwise thrown away by restaurants. But as a solution to long-term energy needs on a national or international scale, the costs appear to far outweigh the benefits. The solution lies in technologies and lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce energy use and consumption, something energy analysts like Amory Lovins have been advocating for some thirty years. From the 1970s through the '90s, the US economy significantly decreased its energy intensity, steadily lowering the amount of energy required to produce a typical dollar of GDP. Other industrial countries have gone far beyond us in this respect. But no one has figured out how to make a fortune on conservation and efficiency. The latest biofuel hype once again affirms that the needs of the planet, and of a genuinely sustainable society, are in fundamental conflict with the demands of wealth and profit.

Brian Tokar directs the Biotechnology Project at Vermont's Institute for Social Ecology (social-ecology.org), and has edited two books on the science and politics of genetic engineering, Redesigning Life? (Zed Books, 2001) and Gene Traders: Biotechnology, World Trade and the Globalization of Hunger (Toward Freedom, 2004).

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More benefits of a UC campus in the Valley

Submitted: Jun 01, 2006

The University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which UC manages, recently announced plans to build a level-4 bio-defense lab near Tracy. Level-4 labs store the most dangerous diseases known to man -- Ebola, dengue fever, Lassa fever and "other illnesses for which there are no known cures." (1)

Opposition to UC Davis establishing a level-4 lab in Davis was so strong -- including a unanimous vote against it by the Davis City Council -- that the federal government dropped plans to fund a $59-million National Biocontainment Laboratory there in September 2003. (2) Opponents argued that such a lab would be an attraction to terrorists and that UC doesn't have adequate security to obstruct them from spreading the lethal contents of a level-4 bio-defense lab to contaminate the surrounding community.

Proximity to a UC campus, former UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey never tired of repeating, creates an ambition to go to college. It also creates a fear of UC weapons-of-mass-destruction research and mistrust of the bland assurances of adequate security.

At least one Tracy city councilwoman, Irene D. Sundberg ... "noted that the city abuts Site 300 -- as the possible location for the second lab is known -- and new housing is planned nearby.

"'The (UC Regents) should be putting it in their backyard and not mine,' she said."

Whose backyard the most dangerous, incurable illnesses in the world should be stored, is the question being argued in federal court. Livermore-based Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment has appealed their case to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, after their district court suit to stop UC from locating the facility in Livermore. CARE argues that it is madness to locate such dangerous substances in such a heavily populated area, where, in case of accident, under certain wind conditions, plumes of deadly diseases could blow all over the Bay Area, where a number of regents live.

Meanwhile, enter the sheer magic of UC flak. The closer you get to weapons of mass destruction the more magical becomes the UC flak. UC is saying:

By contrast, researchers at the second (Tracy) lab would concentrate to a greater degree on natural- or terrorist-caused agricultural diseases, but might also have the authority to work on extremely virulent human diseases such as Ebola, research on which is not permitted in the lower-ranked lab.

UC mentions hoof-and-mouth disease, for example, keeping the door open for anthrax, Ebola, etc, of course.

The situation seems to be that if UC/Lawrence Livermore wins its appeals court case, the deadliest human diseases will be stored and studied in the Bay Area, the most densely (human) populated area in northern California, while hoof-and-mouth disease, for example, will be studied in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains the densest population of cows in the nation.

This is undoubtedly why our wise leaders invited UC to establish a campus in Merced. This is the kind of enlightened, scientific guidance we dumb farmers need down here in the Valley.

My personal favorite from the selection of UC flak was:

"Lawrence Livermore has a long history of safely and securely working with biological agents," Colston said. "There are hundreds of these facilities in the United States with proven track records."

This rises to the level of fabulously fatuous UC Flak. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported in 2002:

On March 14, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) detailed their research priorities for countering bioterrorism. Their broad goals include increased funding for treatment, diagnostics, and vaccines, as well as projects in applied immunology and genomics. These include studies on how pathogens affect humans as well as the genetics of biowarfare agents. [10] The NIH also plans to construct six to 10 new biosafety level-3 and-4 facilities to supplement the seven level-4 facilities that already exist or are nearing completion. In response, several other countries have announced plans to build their own high-containment facilities. This is a recipe for disaster. (3)

Here's the political dilemma. Suppose Councilwoman Sundberg is able to rally as many opponents to the establishment of a level-4 bio-defense lab on the outskirts of her town as citizens of Davis were able to muster to oppose a level-4 lab in the middle of their town on the UC Davis campus. It would seem, in view of several factors, that UC Merced would be the next logical step for UC to take to get the millions in federal grants.

As a university, UC Merced is floundering badly. It appears, according to intermittent word from students, to be operated like a genteel prison camp. Its course offerings are meager, some would say eccentrically high-tech. Its chancellor has just quit. Its vice chancellor spent most of her career at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Its provost departed precipitously for University of Nevada Las Vegas two weeks ago. UC Merced has posted no information on its search for a new chancellor.

First, UC Merced was going to be the UC campus for all the Valley's Hispanics, who according to UC, wouldn't move away from home to go to college. Then it was going to be the environmental campus. This was the period of the Sierra Nevada Institute and the big Nature Conservancy easement program. In fact, due to vicissitudes in the careers of Gov. Gray Davis and Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, UC was unable to fully complete the railroading of all local, state and federal environmental laws and regulations the campus violates, leaving the actual location of future phases of UC Merced up in the air. Lately, more of its flak has been about being a "bio-tech engine of growth."

Labeled both a "land deal" and a "boondoggle" in the state Capitol, so far UC Merced has produced nothing but a huge speculative real estate boom in eastern Merced County, from which various regents and legislators and their families have personally benefited, along with local landowners, developers and realtors. The huge amount of investment capital in the area is flooding in from elsewhere, the same elsewhere where the big profits will go.

What if Tracy develops some backbone? Now that so many Pombo Real Estate Ranches have been filled up with Bay Area-commuter, labor-camp subdivisions, Tracy shows more signs of regarding itself as a part of the Bay Area every day. They may well argue among themselves quite eloquently and persuasively that the best place for a level-4 bio-defense lab also studying hoof-and-mouth disease should be the second largest dairy county in the United States, Merced.

Whereas San Joaquin County supervisors and Tracy City Council members may choose to dodge their patriotic duty to accept a level-4 bio-defense lab, one has no doubt about the patriotism of Merced County supervisors on anything pertaining to UC Merced's memorandum of understanding with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

That only leaves the problem of providing the amenities to attract the top-notch scientists we need to study hoof-and-mouth disease, Ebola, Lassa fever and other fatal, incurable diseases in our neighborhood. Our local leaders, speaking with One Voice, have already taken a positive step in this direction -- improving the roads to UC Merced. Next Tuesday, our leaders invite one of the poorest counties in the state to vote for a sales tax increase -- the most regressive tax possible -- to raise transportation funds.

With leadership like this, Merced should get a level-4 bio-defense lab in less than a year. And what a boon it would be to our stay-at-home minorities, our cows, and our environment!

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

(1) San Francisco Chronicle
Livermore considers bio-defense lab in Tracy. Proposed research site might store deadly human diseases...Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/28/BAGLSJ3NVT1.DTL&type=printable
The University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which are already pushing for federal court approval to store and study dangerous microbes at the Livermore lab, have expressed interest in building a second bio-defense lab near Tracy -- a lab that could experiment with even deadlier bugs...if approved and funded by the Department of Homeland Security, the 50,000-square-foot facility near Tracy could come with a ranking of "Biosafety Level Four," a status granted in the United States only to biological labs that store and analyze the world's scariest pathogens, both human and animal -- and lab officials refused to rule out the possibility that they'll study human diseases as well. The proposal for the second lab angered Tracy City Councilwoman Irene D. Sundberg, who noted that the city abuts Site 300 -- as the possible location for the second lab is known -- and new housing is planned nearby..."The (UC Regents) should be putting it in their backyard and not mine." UC officials expressed interest in the possibility of constructing the Tracy facility in a March 31 letter to Homeland Security. UC officials refused to release copies, explaining their letter is "confidential and proprietary" and releasing it might leak secrets to potential competitors for the project. "Lawrence Livermore has a long history of safely and securely working with biological agents," Colston said. "There are hundreds of these facilities in the United States with proven track records."

(2)http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/7356341p-8300182c.html
Huge blow for UCD's lab quest
University fails to win key federal funding.
By Pamela Martineau -- Bee Staff Writer
September 5, 2003

UC Davis' bid for a proposed biolab suffered a crushing setback Thursday when federal officials denied the university funding for a critical research consortium that would have operated out of its proposed facility.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services named eight institutions that will receive five-year grants to operate Regional Centers of Excellence (RCE) where scientists would study infectious diseases and defenses against bioterrorist attacks. University of California, Davis, was not among the grant recipients ... Most opponents say they fear the lab could become the target of terrorists and could spread dangerous pathogens through the community through accidents or safety breaches. Marches and silent protests also have been staged to oppose the project ... Don Mooney, an attorney for the group Stop UCD Bio Lab Now, said he has read the NIH's request for proposals for the National Biocontainment Laboratory thoroughly and he believes UC Davis' loss of the Regional Center of Excellence "should be the end" of the biolab proposal. Davis City Councilman Mike Harrington agreed ...

(3)http://www.thebulletin.org/article.php?art_ofn=so02choffnes
Bioweapons: New labs, more terror?
By Eileen Choffnes
September/October 2002 pp. 28-32 (vol. 58, no. 05) © 2002 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

(4) http://www.counterpunch.com/zeese06012006.html
June 1, 2006
Return of the Petri Dish Warriors
A New Biowar Arms Race Begins in Maryland
By KEVIN ZEESE
... Expansion of Bio-Weapons Activity Will Make America, and the World, Less Safe

Not only is this a multi-billion dollar misuse of federal funds, but it will encourage our adversaries to develop similar programs, lead to the invention of new, infectious agents and increase the risk of diversion of U.S. made bio-weapons to our adversaries. If the government really want to increase the safety of Americans the U.S. would invest in the public health system, strengthen international controls and work to remove pathogens from the face of the earth, rather than creating new ones.

The only modern bio-weapons attack was the use of anthrax in letters to Senators Daschle and Leahy at the time the Patriot Act was being considered. There is no question the anthrax used in this attack was produced in the United States and came through Ft. Detrick. The type of anthrax used was the "Ames strain," with a concentration and dispersability of one trillion spores per gram--a technology that is only capable of production by U.S. scientists...

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Some reasons that could explain the Modesto Bee endorsement of Pombo (if stupidity is not the whole answer)

Submitted: May 31, 2006

In a quiet little editorial on May 18, the Modesto Bee endorsed Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, against Republican challenger, former Rep. Pete McCloskey.

The Bee says that although Pombo is a (as yet unindicted) crook, he "has been effective in many ways."
McCloskey, is described as a quixotic, 78-year-old renegade, an author of the Endangered Species Act angry over Pombo's attacks.

Pombo's gut-the ESA bills are co-authored by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, who represents most of the Modesto Bee distribution area. A practical political consideration not mentioned by the editorialists is that without Pombo's hip pocket to ride in, Cardoza would lose influence in the one-party rightwing House. Rather than register as a Republican, Cardoza is a rightwing Democrat, of use to the House rightwing leadership as "bipartisan" cover for Pombo's radical rightwing legislation and decisions in the Resource Committee.

The Bee notes that Pombo was elevated over more senior House Republicans to the chairmanship of the Resources Committee. The Bee fails to mention that Pombo was also elevated several months ago over more senior Republicans to become vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

These important offices, once earned through years of service to the still untermed House, are now doled out by the radically rightwing Republican leadership to bolster its strengths here, fight off a challenge there and especially to reward loyalty to their radical rightwing policies. Once, even under periods of Republican control, the Congress chose its committee leaders on the basis of seniority, encyclopedic knowledge of esoteric subjects like dairy pricing, cotton and rice subsidies (especially at the beginning of a new Farm Bill debate), ability to compromise and negotiate across the aisle, and perhaps, from time to time, even a for little integrity, civility and authenticity.

In Pombo's case, the radical rightwing Republican leadership of the House, whose guidance the Modesto Bee has followed slavishly, has made Pombo as powerful as it could have in two areas -- resources policy and farm policy -- at a time when north San Joaquin Valley special interests are intent on liquidating both natural resources and agricultural land for a huge speculative housing boom.

It is a moment when the Bee editorial board should have stood for a principle. In fact, the "should" word was used:

It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

The Bee editorialists give no reason why 11th congressional district Republicans "should" choose Pombo, but here are a few I imagine might have persuaded the editorialists:

Get rid of the ESA so developers can build from the Altamont to Bakersfield without any interference from environmental law and regulation, despite the air quality disaster unfolding in the San Joaquin Valley;

Let the government buy up agricultural land at development prices;

Get rid of that 3-cent per hundredweight dairy tax proposed for the new Farm Bill;

Continue strong subsidy support for cotton and rice;

Keep the cabal of Pombo, Cardoza and Valley congressmen Radanovich, Nunes and Costa in control for continued pro-growth, anti-environmental, agribusiness-subsidy and racist policies;

Keep out McCloskey, an independent candidate with a proven record for courageous, principled political positions, who would be no tool for regional special interests;

If necessary (if Pombo is indicted before November), elect one of the Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to see who can be the biggest tool of special interests;

Neither Pombo or the Democrats would be votes to impeach the president; McCloskey has shown he has the courage to take that position if he decided it was the right thing to do.

The Modesto Bee sold its readers down the River of Stupid with this endorsement. It was cowardly, corrupt and dumb -- a combination of components in political policies we are finding more common by the day whenever our leaders speak.

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

Pombo best among GOP options, but he'll have explaining to do later

Last Updated: May 18, 2006, 04:23:03 AM PDT

With his close ties to disgraced Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, contributions from clients of admitted criminal Jack Abramoff, and his off-the-wall plan to sell national parks, Richard Pombo looks to be ripe for defeat in the 11th Congressional District.
We don't think so; not this time. None of Pombo's problems will matter to the majority of Republican voters in a district that includes most of San Joaquin and parts of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. In this primary, the district's Republican voters are unlikely to vote against their seven-term representative. After all, he is the same big business-friendly, hardball playing, conservative Republican they've been electing since 1992.

As a protegé of DeLay, Pombo was elevated over more senior members to the chair of the House Resources Committee. From that position, he has forged a valley coalition that includes Democrats and Republicans. While we often disagree with the direction he has taken the committee, he has been effective in many ways.

In the primary, Republicans must choose between Pombo and 78-year-old renegade Pete McCloskey (retired Tracy rancher Tom Benigno is a nonfactor). It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

Angry over Pombo's attacks on the Endangered Species Act, of which McCloskey was co-author, Pombo's opponent moved into the district last year to give GOP voters an alternative. This has provided a loud and healthy airing of issues and a real campaign instead of the proforma exercise Pombo usually goes through to win re-election.

We admire McCloskey's quixotic quest, but we doubt that the district's Republicans are interested in an alternative. Besides, even a deeply flawed Pombo has more to offer the district than McCloskey.

It could be a different story in November. Then, a well-financed Democrat with distinctly differing views will present a clearer alternative. Then, Pombo will have to explain why 15 American Indian tribes, all with business before his House committee and some represented by Abramoff, have been so generous to him; why he has voted to protect oil companies' royalties and increase their profits; why he worked so hard to protect DeLay's power, and why he wanted to sell off pieces of15 national parks.

Republican voters should stick with Pombo — at least until they have a better alternative.

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A river of milk runs through it

Submitted: Feb 16, 2006

Elections and debate on a new five-year Farm Bill are upon us. The Bee reported last week that members of the House Agriculture Committee will be visiting Stockton in the first week of March to hold hearings on the Bush administration's proposals.

These proposals include taxing dairymen 3 cents per hundredweight, cutting cotton and rice subsidies and a $200-million annual subsidy to promote American agricultural exports. Recent recipients include Blue Diamond Growers, the California Table Grape Commission and Sunkist Growers, the Bee reported. (1)

It's a shakedown. To make it more obvious, Bush is proposing sizable cuts in farm supports in this year's budget.

Mike Marsh, CEO of United Western Dairymen told the Bee that 3 cents per hundredweight worked out to about "$5,700" per year to an 800-cow dairy. A fraction -- probably a significant fraction but less than the tax -- will be required in the form of campaign contributions to buy off the tax.

Presumably, cotton, rice and the fruit and nut corporations are busily calculating the campaign-contribution costs, too. Meanwhile, learned consultants are coming up with new words for subsidies and new ways of hiding them from the public on the assumption that agricultural economics as we know it will continue and agriculture will come up with the political vig.

The choice of Stockton for the Central California hearing is interesting because Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy has a challenger in the Republican primary, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Woodside.

Pombo is known primarily as chairman of the House Resources Committee and as the face of the ESA-gutting team. The rear end of the team is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, a "Democrat" so popular with the Republican developers, landowners and real estate speculators in his district he appears to be running unopposed for his next term.

However, although Pombo and his “bipartisan” sidekick, Cardoza are primarily known for their hard right, pro-growth, anti-environmental positions, they are both members of the Agriculture Committee. He sits on the Livestock and Horticulture, and the Department Operations, Oversight, Dairy, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittees.

In local farming circles, the Pombo/Cardoza operation is known as The Pomboza.

The Bee commented:

Realistically, Capitol Hill is not fertile soil for many of the farm proposals planted by the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget, which starts Oct. 1. Some, such as a proposed 5 percent cut in crop subsidies and a $250,000 limit on subsidies paid to individuals, withered quickly in past years. (1)

In other words, it's an old, rotten story we no longer have to think much about because farmland is disappearing, replaced by subdivisions like those on Pombo Real Estate Farms in Tracy.

Coverage of the farm budget is more vivid in Great Falls, MT, not experiencing a speculative housing bubble at the moment, and is probably more representative of how the Central Valley’s remaining farmers sense the situation:

Ag feels pinch in Administration's proposed budget

By DALE HILDEBRANT, For The Prairie Star
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There were few cheers on Capitol Hill, as President Bush delivered his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The budget slashes many domestic programs, including agriculture, while projecting a record $423 billion deficit. The overall suggested spending bill will cost $2.77 trillion and would give the Pentagon a 6.9 percent increase and a 14 percent boost to foreign aid.

There weren't any budget increases in the ag portion of the spending bill, only cuts and a proposed tax on sugarbeet producers and dairy farmers. The Administration plan would cut crop subsidies by five percent while increasing certain agricultural fees, including a 1.2 percent tax on sugarbeet growers, which is identical to a proposal made last year by the White House, but scrapped later by Congress.

Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, in addressing the budget ag proposals said, “The President's budget proposed today is full of gimmicks and runs low on common sense.

“For agriculture, at best, this budget is a rehash of the President's strategy of sacrificing farm support for a sell at any cost international trade policy. At worst, this budget shows no commitment on the part of the President to the needs of our nation's farmers,” he continued. “America 's farmers and ranchers cannot afford the uncertainty that these proposals would create, and Congress should quickly reject them ...” (2)

The choice of Stockton as the site for this congressional hearing also has historical resonance with McCloskey in the race.

Dairy industry critic, Robert Cohen, wrote:

While writing MILK: The Deadly Poison, I discovered transcripts of Nixon's actual meeting with dairymen on March 23, 1971.

Knowing the tapes were running, and having been presented with $3 million dollars in cash, Nixon was recorded saying: "Uh, I know...that, uh, you are a group that are politically very conscious...And you're willing to do something about it. And, I must say a lot of businessmen and others...don't do anything about it. And you do, and I appreciate that. And I don't have to spell it out."

After the dairymen had left, advisor John Connally was alone with Nixon, and said:
"They are tough political operatives. This is a cold political deal." …

What did this $3 million dollar "investment"do for the dairy industry? In 1971, 120 billion pounds of milk were produced. An additional 27 cents per hundred pounds of milk translated to $3.24 billion extra dollars for the dairy industry.

On March 23, 1971, Secretary of the Treasury, John Connally summarized the day's events to Nixon: "These dairymen are organized; they're adamant, they're militant...And they, they're massing an enormous amount of money that they're going to put into political activities, very frankly." (3)

In March 1971, Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-CA, had just returned from Vietnam. Recently, he recalled that month:

While in Vietnam and Laos during March 1971, I had taken sworn affidavits from a number of pilots who stated they had been bombing targets in Laos and Cambodia, many with the coordinates of specific rural villages, some being in Laos' famous Plain of Jars, a considerable distance from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which had once been a legitimate bombing target.

Upon returning home, I testified before two Senate committees. I was interviewed on various television shows, including that of William Buckley. I related the stories of the bombings of which I had been told, both by Air Force pilots and by Laotian refugees from the Plain of Jars. My statements were immediately denied by various high-ranking administration spokesmen, who stated unequivocally that the United States was not bombing in Laos. The controversy received national coverage ...

A few days later, it was announced that we were indeed bombing in Laos, but that for security reasons, this knowledge had been withheld from the civilian secretaries of the Air Force, Navy and Army. At the direct order from the White House to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, false coordinates were reported to the secretaries for the daily and nightly bombing runs over Laos and Cambodia. The justification, then as now, was that national security required that the bombing raids not be disclosed to the American people. (4)

McCloskey ran against Nixon in the New Hampshire Republican primary in 1972. No doubt, the Nixon campaign in New Hampshire was funded partly by dairy money. McCloskey went on to serve another decade in Congress. Among his accomplishments was co-authoring the Endangered Species Act. He said at a Stockton meeting late last year that he had tried to testify on the ESA three times before Pombo’s resources committee and each time Pombo had refused him a hearing.

The Bushites might be holding this hearing in Stockton to shore up Pombo's support in his district against a dangerous opponent, not only of Pombo, but also of this administration. Rove could not possibly want McCloskey, who campaigned for Kerry in 2004, (5) in Congress next year. McCloskey would become an instant leader of moderate, ethically minded Republicans against the war-mad, rightwing House leadership and White House.

The Bush administrative version of political support is more money from fewer, bigger contributors. The aim could be to redeem the hearts and minds of the 11th CD by mixing agriculture and developer cash in with Abramoff contributions. Why not? Rove gave agribusiness what some say was the most lavish farm bill on record in 2002. (6)

Now the White House is playing rough: it's a guns v. butter moment.

What will Pombo say at the hearing on the esoteric topic of the next farm bill? Will he earn their money from gratitude by going against his president and his rightwing ideology? Or will he earn their money from fear by supporting the dairy tax and the subsidy cuts? Or will he, most characteristically, say one thing in public and do another thing in private? How will Pombo of Tracy's Pombo Real Estate Farms relate to Pombo, member of the House agriculture committee? Will he turn the hearing into an anti-ESA, pro-private property rights rally? Will he wear his cowboy hat?

Who cares? Whatever he does, he will remain within character as a buffoon of the emerging autocracy.

One can imagine a Pombo fundraiser in early March, co-hosted by Western United Dairymen and the region's most prominent developers, Grupe, Spanos and Tsakapoulos -- because today's young mega-dairyman may have to sell his real estate tomorrow if the subsidies aren't adequate.

In Pombo's politics, San Joaquin Valley agriculture, the greatest laboratory in the world for the study of what is wrong with the industrial, corporate agricultural model, has reached a higher stage of absurd destruction: Pombo’s politics are like the Holstein heifers born every day without working reproductive organs because their mothers are "spiked" with growth hormones; like the billions of almond blossoms waiting for bees that do not come; like developer-sponsored childhood asthma; like commuter-clogged highways to disappearing Silicon Valley jobs; like Pombo Real Estate Farms; like the dead San Joaquin River; and like the extinction of wildlife on land and fish in the Delta. This absurd destruction must be as attractive and familiar to Bush and Rove as McCloskey's honesty must be hateful to them.

However, rather than any clear political agenda in the latest proposed farm bill, we might just be observing the blind workings of the free market in that business enterprise called the American political system. Despite the recent overwhelming speculative bubble in housing in the Valley, agriculture is still the region’s enduring economy. It’s a terrible system at the moment. It is easy to agree with almost all its critics. The only caution is that if you too suddenly remove the system of subsidies upon which much of the Valley agricultural economy rests, and pave it over and turn it into a horribly polluted labor camp for the convenience of rich, coastal counties, it will have had no more chance of evolving than the San Joaquin Kit Fox.

Perhaps in the course of his campaign, McCloskey can teach the Pomboza the meaning of the word, “oversight.”
------------------

(1) www.modbee.com/business/story/11795200p-12512621c.html

(2) http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2006/02/15/ag_news/local_and_regional_news/local12.txt

(3) www.notmilk.com/trickydick.html

(4) http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0405-05.htm

(5) inprogress.typepad.com/republicanswitchers/ files/ifyoureatruerepublicanvote4kerrymccloskey.pdf

(6) www.pacificresearch.org/ press/kqed/2002/kqed_02-06-04.html

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Moutha Gold in Hilmar

Submitted: Nov 25, 2005

There is no doubt a lot of money and influence is on the line in the Hilmar Cheese situation, although the Modesto Bee keeps shrinking the amount. The original fine levied by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board was $4 million. Yesterday it shrunk to $3 million after the Moutha Gold got into it.

To recapitulate briefly, Hilmar came up with a proposal in September to inject its offensive wastewater so deep in the ground it would presumably disappear from human consciousness.

At that hearing, which was public, Vance Kennedy, of Modesto, a retired PhD in hydrology, said and wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency some unflattering, authoritative things about the deep-injection plan. (1) (I have included them in full below.)

Then everything went dead in the water until this week, when the Sacramento Bee wrote a $3-million settlement proposal (instead of a $4-million fine) had been worked out without benefit of more public input, six new members had been appointed to the regional water board and it would decide the issue next Tuesday. But there was one catch: John Norton, from the state Water Resources Control Board, wrote the regional board urging them not to approve the deal.

Enter Mike Boccadoro, the Moutha Gold, senior vice president of the Dolphin Group, a public relations and lobbyist organization. The Moutha Gold gets hold of Mike Mooney at the Modesto Bee with another version of events. Already we’re in deep manure.

See, it was the Sacramento Bee that broke the story that Hilmar Cheese, founded by Chuck Ahlem and others, had routinely violated water quality regulations with impunity for years. The Sacramento Bee thought that was a bit much, probably because our Gov. Hun had appointed Ahlem undersecretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Ahlem was selling himself as the biggest cheese maker in the world but environmental, environmental, environmental. But, by skewering a political hypocrite, the Sacramento Bee incidentally compelled top staff at the Central Valley regional board to act: it fined Hilmar Cheese $4 million – the largest fine for the largest cheesemaker. Symmetry.

But Modesto isn’t Sacramento. Modesto is headquarters for the Western United Dairymen and hometown of Mad Cow Annie Veneman, former secretary of the USDA and Bill Lyons, Jr. former secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. And that’s just the living top agricultural officials Modesto has produced. That city is represented in Congress by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced (Resources and Agriculture committees), in the state Senate by Jeff Denham, R-Salinas and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and in the state Assembly by Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Reporter Mooney, the modbee’s political veteran, is all ears to the story the Moutha Gold has to sell.

"It (Norton's letter) is so fraught with reckless, inappropriate and inaccurate statements that I can't even begin to elaborate," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for Hilmar Cheese and senior vice president with the Dolphin Group public relations firm. "It is not in any way the official position of the State Water Resources Control Board." (2)

Well, that’s a real mouthful but par for the course of the firm founded by Bill Roberts, who along with Stu Spencer packaged Ronald Reagan for the San Joaquin Valley in 1966 with a whispering campaign about Black welfare mothers driving 10 kids to the LA Welfare office in a gold Cadillac.

The Moutha’s first sentence is your basic character assassination of some witless government bureaucrat on behalf of the environmentally blameless, largest cheesemaker in the world. We’re walking in a myth here and we’ve forgotten Ahlem was ever undersecretary of anything. This is your basic, elemental shoot out between Agriculture and Government.

It’s the second sentence that kinda takes your breath away, when you consider the Moutha Gold has suddenly switched clients and is now representing the State Water Resources Control Board (presumably in the role of a better, truer bureaucrat).

Mooney (anybody who’s read his lyrical pieces on rivers knows the guy’s a closet clean water lover) craftily spends the rest of the article showing that the Moutha Gold and the world’s biggest cheesemaker’s attorney are misspeaking about state water board procedure.

But there is just enough “balance” in the article to possibly half-persuade the incurious reader that state resource bureaucrats are once harming our Holy Agriculture, which is a mortal sin in high, small, tight, rich circles hereabouts. So the Moutha Gold earned his fee for the story.

The Dolphin Group describes itself in the following way:

We are a full service public relations and public affairs consulting firm with a reputation for achieving results for our clients. Everything we do is designed to change the perceptions of an individual or group -- to get them to think differently -- and to ultimately persuade them to change their behavior. We are result-oriented and by the nature of our business, crisis-oriented as well. With offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and over two decades of experience, the Dolphin Group is prepared to accept any challenge. (3)

The word truth is absent and the public is an adjectival target of the euphemisms it modifies. In English, public relations means propaganda, and public affairs means lobbying. Yet it is an honest statement about itself. The LA Weekly described Dolphin much the same way, but with more detail in a piece written in the midst of a campaign for a phony living wage initiative in Santa Monica to defuse a proposed ordinance that really would have raised wages for local hotel workers:

The Dolphin Group had worked with Nielsen, Merksamer on the Dump Bird campaign, but that was just one of its greatest hits. It labored on Gerald Ford’s presidential and Ronald Reagan’s and Deukmejian’s gubernatorial campaigns. More notably, it was the Dolphins who produced the notorious Willie Horton ads, exploiting racial fears that helped sink the 1988 presidential bid of Michael Dukakis. Over the past few years, the Group coordinated the establishment of an employer-dominated farm-worker union to combat the United Farm Workers’ campaign to organize strawberry workers. (The Dolphin Group did not return the Weekly’s phone calls seeking comment on its campaigns.)

Most important, in 1994 the Group ran the unsuccessful campaign for Proposition 188 — an initiative, funded entirely by the nation’s five major tobacco companies, that sought to pre-empt state and local restrictions on smoking in public with far weaker language. The Dolphins marketed 188 to the public, however, as a strict anti-smoking ordinance.

Proposition 188 went down to defeat when the opposition campaign informed voters that it was funded by such anti-smoking activists as Philip Morris, and KK opponents hope that a similar fate awaits the hotels’ initiative. Their own mailings will surely make clear the hotels’ support for KK, but, as longtime Santa Monica activist Vivian Rothstein pointed out during an anti-KK precinct walk last Saturday, the campaign has a real challenge before it. “The hotels’ message,” she said, “is totally aimed at our base.” (4)

I’m not saying the Moutha Gold lies in his teeth every time he comes down here to the land of the Sacred Cow. Standing in Mooney’s shoes a few years ago, after a week of investigation I agreed that Dolphin was fighting a campaign based on truth against a pack of lies fomented by an Arizona milk magnate who was claiming that California’s regulations adding non-milk-solids back to skim milk didn’t make it any more nutritious. State Senator Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, introduced legislation to gut the state’s milk standards. Despite a forensic UCLA nutritionist hired by the other side to testify the Arizonan was right, the Moutha Gold won that campaign. He had much empirical evidence in verifiable public documents to support his case. I read it all and I believe he was right, an opinion shared by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when it upheld trial-court Judge Stanley Karlton's decision. (5)

During our short, intense time together, I noticed moments of discomfort, as if having been so often on the side of pure fable, the Moutha Gold knew well how vulnerable the truth often is.

On the theory that if the University of California can get away with it, Agriculture and the next owner’s of farmland, developers, are denying larger chunks of reality and taking a harder, more reactionary stance against environmental law and regulation. This is shown in Congress currently by the Pombo/Cardoza Gut-the-Endangered Species Act bill. It is bad politics, particularly if the nation is driven into a reform mood; but meanwhile it remains a good living for the Moutha Gold and Hilmar's lawyers.

Regardless of the superior nutritional value of California skim milk, the dairy industry is a major polluter. It pollutes groundwater with its tremendous quantities of wastewater. It pollutes the air with its dust, manure and diesel fumes. It pollutes our politics with huge campaign contributions. And it pollutes our minds with high priced propaganda/lobbying campaigns that deny dairies pollute anything.

Issues remain. The original $4-million fine was calculated according to some guidelines, presumably legal. Now, the special interest -- the largest cheesemaker in the world -- is trying to settle for $3 million. What's a million dollars to the state of California these days? It's a million dollars the public is owed for the grossest violations of water quality regulations in the history of those regulations in this region. Although that dirty water is a special interest solution to its waste disposal, it is a public problem and will remain one -- in the region the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is supposed to protect. How much of that million dollars is going to pay Moutha Gold and the lawyers to reduce the fine by a million dollars? When you begin to dwell on these topics, the arrogance of the biggest-cheesemaker-in-the-world and its faith in corruption runs about as deep as the proposed injection wells.

Unlike the fables and threats the five or six new regional water board members, the law is real and here to protect the public health and safety, not special interests -- and it's their job to enforce it.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) COMMENTS ON A PROPOSED HILMAR CHEESE COMPANY WELL
Sept. 9, 2005: Letter to Editor, Modesto Bee

These remarks are intended to supplement more technical comments made in a letter sent to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early August. If you have ever filled a balloon with water and squeezed it, you know that, when you push on one side, you cause the balloon to bulge out elsewhere. The same principle applies to water underground. When you inject water into a saturated aquifer underground, you force water already there to go elsewhere. That; “elsewhere” has to be upward. The water in the rocks above that aquifer is quite salty for perhaps 2,000 feet and, when that salty water moves upward, it will mix with good water and ruin it for human use.

It would be bad enough if that overlying salty water only moved upward next to the well, but it can go a mile or more in any direction before contaminating near-surface good water, The injected water itself won’t show up near the surface for a long time, but the salty water it pushes ahead of itself can show up in a fairly short time.

I am amazed that EPA technical people did not reject this injection well proposal immediately, given the situation I have described.

/ ORIGINAL SIGNED /

Vance C. Kennedy, Ph, D.
Retired Hydrologist.

5052 Tully Road
Modesto, Ca. 95356
August 6, 2005
-----------------

To: Eric Byous, U.S EPA, Region 9
From: Vance C. Kennedy

Subject: Proposed injection of wastes into a deep aquifer by the Hilmar Cheese Company

These comments relate to the above subject. I will first present a series of questions and follow with a discussion of what I believe are major problems with the proposal.

Question 1. A representative of the California Regional Quality Control Board said that the Board bad no official knowledge of the well proposal. Why not? Does the Board have no jurisdiction?. One would think that such a proposal would be of concern to them, given the points mentioned below.

Question 2. What is the expected chemistry of the injected water and that of the receiving water?

Question 3. What is the salinity of water at various depths fix several thousand fret around the proposed well? See comments below for reasons for this question.

Question 4. What are the relative densities of injected and receiving waters?

Question 5. Does anyone question the statement that water is incompressible? If not, then the discussion presented below should be pertinent.

As a generalization, in sedimentary rocks, the horizontal permeability to water flow us considerably greater than the vertical permeability. Thus, water injected under pressure will flow laterally until the resistance to flow laterally becomes a significant fraction of the resistance to vertical water flow. Then, some displaced water will move toward the surface, pushing deeper saline groundwater upward into shallow aquifers. That upward movement can be tortuous and delayed greatly in time. But, the displacement has to happen due to the incompressibility of water. Furthermore, it is not the chemistry of the injected water as much as the chemistry of the displaced water that is the problem initially. Even if one injected distilled water, the same displacement upward of saline water would occur. Legally, it might be a lifetime before the actual injected water neared the surface and could be identified as coming from Hilmar Cheese, The displaced saline water can be expected to contaminate near-surface aquifers much sooner.

If the injected water is less dense than the receiving water, it will tend to float upward and push saline water upward also, but very slowly. Thus, the regulators may well be gone long before that becomes an obvious problem. Not to worry?

When groundwater is contaminated, it is not a simple matter to clean it up by flushing with clean water. To understand why, picture through-going channels in the aquifer bounded by areas of essentially immobile water in tiny openings. The contaminant flows in the open channels readily but can only penetrate the tiny pores by diffusion, whose rate is concentration dependent. When clean water flushes out the open channels, the contaminants in the pores will diffuse slowly into the open channels until temporary equilibrium is reached or new flushing is done. The process can be repeated over and over, but, as the concentration of the contaminant decreases, the rate of diffusion slows also and “complete” cleaning will take forever. Adsorption processes slow cleaning as well.

In summary, the damage done by deep well injection to shallow aquifers may take years to show up, but, when it does, the damage can be far from the injection well and be impossible to tie to that well. Because the actual injected water is the pusher, that water may stay a long time in the deep injected aquifer before moving upward.

The Modesto Bee has expressed concern about the Hilmar well, so I am sending a copy of this letter to them. The subject is obviously a matter of some public interest. My background is that of a hydrologist that has been involved in studies of contaminant transport in natural water systems. A 5-minute presentation seems inadequate to cover the items discussed in this letter. If you wish to discuss these comments prior to the meeting. I can be reached at 209 545 3575.

Vance C. Kennedy, PhD.

(2) http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11517556p-12254646c.html

Hilmar Cheese decries plan critics
Plant: State regulators' letter may create conflict of interest

By MICHAEL G. MOONEY
BEE STAFF WRITER
Last Updated: November 24, 2005, 04:22:09 AM PST

Representatives of Hilmar Cheese Co. on Wednesday blasted state regulators who want the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board to reject a proposed $3 million settlement of the company's long-standing water pollution violations.
Earlier this week, the Office of Statewide Initiatives — a unit of the State Water Resources Control Board — issued a letter criticizing the settlement pact because it was hammered out behind closed doors and would let Hilmar Cheese indefinitely pollute groundwater surrounding its Merced County plant, about a half mile north of Hilmar on Lander Avenue.

"We recommend that the proposed settlement agreement be rejected," the letter states, "and that an order be issued containing a schedule designed to return the discharger to compliance."

The letter is signed by John Norton, chief of the Office of Statewide Initiatives. The Bee was unable to reach Norton for comment Wednesday.

Members of the regional water board are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to accept the settlement.

"It (Norton's letter) is so fraught with reckless, inappropriate and inaccurate statements that I can't even begin to elaborate," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for Hilmar Cheese and senior vice president with the Dolphin Group public relations firm. "It is not in any way the official position of the State Water Resources Control Board."

Hilmar attorney Mark Fogelman, in a letter issued Wednesday afternoon, questions the propriety of OSI sending the letter to the regional water board and contends it creates a potential conflict of interest because the state water board likely will review and determine the "correctness" of the regional board's action on the proposed settlement.

"No subdivision or part of the state board should be commenting on the matter when it is pending before the regional board," Fogelman wrote, "and no such comments should be given any weight whatsoever in the deliberations of the regional board."

Hilmar Cheese contends the OSI should have submitted its comments to the state water board's executive director, Celeste Cantú.

"However, the OSI comments indicate that Executive Director Cantú never authorized the filing of the comments," Fogelman wrote.

The Bee was unable to reach Cantú for comment Wednesday.

But William L. Rukeyser, a state water board spokesman, said Norton and other OSI staffers did follow proper procedures by putting their concerns about the proposed settlement in writing.

Rukeyser said Norton took care in the letter to point out that there had been no consultations between his unit and the state water board.

Nor had there been any contact, he said, between Norton and any of the attorneys involved in negotiating the proposed settlement.

Rukeyser did say, however, that attorney Catherine George, who represented the regional board in the negotiations with Hilmar Cheese, was aware of the OSI's reports on the water pollution allegations. He insisted, however, that the proceeding had not been tainted.

Hilmar spokesman Boccadoro was not convinced.

"Clearly," he said, "this is an attempt to grossly misrepresent the facts, to confuse and influence inappropriately the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board."

(3) http://www.dolphingroup.org/

(4) http://www.laweekly.com/ink/00/47/powerlines-meyerson.php

(5) supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/ decisions/lower_court/99-16981.pdf

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Upcoming Hilmar Cheese decision stinks

Submitted: Nov 24, 2005

The Central Valley regional Water Quality Control Board is set to approve a deal between regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. on Nov. 29 that would “grant the world’s largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations – and for future offenses.” (1)

How did this happen? We can only guess.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Hilmar Cheese founder, Chuck Ahlem, to the state Department of Food and Agriculture in January 2004, apparently under the apprehension Ahlem was an “environmental” dairyman. (2) When the Sacramento Bee broke the story this year that Hilmar Cheese – far from being an icon of environmentalism – had been cited by this same board numerous times for water quality violations and, somehow, nothing had been done about them. Exposed, Ahlem resigned from the CDFA and the water quality board fined the cheese company $4 million. Some in the Valley thought the fine made a good press release.

After a plan was announced two months ago that Hilmar would inject its wastewater thousands of feet down, to loud public disbelief and derision, the story quieted down and went behind closed doors. Meanwhile, it was discovered the board needed some new members and the governor appointed them. There were six vacancies on the nine-member board that needed immediate attention from the governor. Five are mentioned on the water board’s website:

His appointments are:

Linda Adams, 56, of Sacramento, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She most recently served as chief of staff to the state controller from 2004 to 2005. Previously, Adams was a member of the California Performance Review, director of the Department of Water Resources, legislative secretary and chief deputy legislative secretary to the governor and principal consultant to the Senate Agriculture & Water Resources Committee. She is a member of the board of directors of the Sacramento Local Conservation Corps. Adams is a Democrat.

Paul Betancourt, 46, of Kerman, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He has been managing partner of VF Farms since 1983, a family farming operation. Betancourt also writes a monthly column on agriculture and urban issues for the Fresno Business Journal. He is a member of the Kerman Unified School Board, Fresno County Farm Bureau, Valley Clean Air Now Board and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District-Community Advisory Committee. Betancourt is a Republican.

Kate Hart, 34, of Granite Bay, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as associate attorney with Trainor Robertson since 2004. Previously, Hart served as associate attorney with Reed Smith and Woods and Daube. She is a member of Trout Unlimited and CalTrout. Hart is a Republican. On 11 November 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the following appointments:

Sopac Mulholland, 60, of Springville, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as the executive director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust since 2002. Mulholland was previously interim executive director for the Economic Development Corporation of Tulare County from 1998 to 1999. She is also the owner and operator of River Valley Ranch, McCarthy Creek Ranch and Quail Run Ranch. Mulholland is a former member of the Occupational and Health Standards Board. Mulholland is a Republican.

Dan Odenweller, 60, of Stockton, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He most recently served as a fishery biologist and manager in the Habitat Conservation Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries from 2001 to 2004. Odenweller previously served with the California Department of Fish and Game from 1971 to 2001, retiring as a senior fishery biologist. He is a member of the American Fisheries Society, the Sierra Club and Delta Flyfishers. Odenweller is a Republican. These positions require Senate confirmation. The compensation is $100 per diem.

Hilmar can count of local support from elected officials. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced is a member of the House Resources and Agriculture committees, and is co-author with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy of the Gut-the-ESA bill. State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas (or Merced – he can’t quite remember which) is chairman of the state Sen. Agriculture Committee. State Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, is chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, a member of Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife, and of the Assembly Select Committee on Water, Infrastructure and the Economy. Each is a beneficiary of dairy largesse through the various associations and PACs the industry generates as abundantly as it produces government commodities.

Monday, an official of the State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees the state’s regional water quality boards, wrote the Central Valley board urging it to reject this settlement.

"We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.

Three of the Republicans among the five new appointees to the Central Valley board for which we have public information would seem capable of voting for anything pro-agriculture, anti-environmental, particularly when it would help a prominent Republican dairyman, despite the decision stinking as highly as Hilmar on a bad day.

If this happens, it would remain to be seen what power the state board would have to remedy the injustice done to the people in and around Hilmar. If the executive branch, after a belated but real beginning to bring the cheese company to heel, returns to its corrupt habits under what must be considerable political pressure, a judicial approach should be sought if one is possible.

California is the nation’s top dairy state and the dairy industry is historically a powerful, rich lobby in Sacramento and Washington. Although industry pricing (including subsidies) remains an unfathomable mystery, even to most dairy producers, from time to time its lobbying enthusiasm gets exposed. The last time this happened was called the “milk-fund scandal.” It was revealed as a by-product of the Watergate investigation. (4)

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

(1) Don't let polluters off easy, state says...Chris Bowman
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/v-print/story/13892086p-14731032c.html
Top state water-quality enforcers on Monday blasted a proposed settlement that would grant the world's largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations - and for future offenses. The officials said the proposed deal between Central Valley regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. sets a bad precedent and offers scant justification for dropping all violations stemming from years of dumping putrid, poorly treated wastewater on open fields near its Merced County factory. In a letter Monday, the officials urged members of the state's Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board to reject the settlement, which is scheduled for the board's vote Nov. 29. "We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.

(2) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2005/01/17/jnelson.DTL

(3) http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/HomePageAttachments/new-board-members.pdf.

(4) http://www.watergate.info/tapes/71-03-23_milk-price-supports.shtml

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