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


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.


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

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


(1) Don't let polluters off easy, state says...Chris Bowman
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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