California Democrats and the environment in a drought year



 It was uncharacteristically candid, at least a PR faux pas:  a state water official actually stating that it was not possible for the government to make it rain. And this despite the governor’s profound concern for west side farmers  in an election year. The times probably make Jerry nostalgic for his youth, during which bags bulging with cash came from the west side to his father in return for road and water projects. They don’t call the canal carrying State Water Project water the ‘Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown” canal for nothing.






Jerry is probably less nostalgic for another year, in the middle of his first term as governor, 1976-77, a drought as bad as this one. Farmers then, as farmers now, griped that the amount of hot air coming out of the Governor’s office had caused the high pressure zone blocking winter storms to settle over the state. 




Nope, politicians can’t do much about a drought but bloviate about more water storage, canals or tunnels to get Sacramento River water around the Delta, and decry ruinous environmental regulations, most of which they will overrun as the drought continues.










We have two related “organic” systems here, but the relationship is not nice. In fact it has already ruined California but it keeps on going on. Apparently, government is incapable of seeing the process, well described by Istvan Meszaros:





The perverse destructive logic of an all-embracing social organic system, bent on ultimately destroying nature itself as the necessary ground of human existence, implicates not only some of its parts but all of them, and thereby the system itself as a whole... – Istvan Meszaros, Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness, V. 1, (2010) p. 341.









So, Jerry dons a red flannel shirt and a solicitous mien and starts collecting cash again from the west side for the next election. Yet, agribusiness is still so thirsty for water that it so greatly overdrafts the groundwater to irrigate land laden with salts and heavy metals that the canals themselves are cracking and buckling as the land nearby subsides, crushing aquifers. At the time time, the San Luis Reservoir has actually waterlogged surrounding acreage. A real triumph of engineering and public works pork, much of it thanks to a Brown Streak running through more than half a century of state water projects.



In Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, chair of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, we have another brand. Perhaps we could call her “Bernie Sisk Lite in Chartreuse.” Having observed her standing on a milk crate at a Labor Day picnic many years ago, one member of the editorial board long ago concluded Barbara Boxer would never get her feet on the ground, perhaps because of the velocity of fizz coming out of her mouth.  As chairman of the committee, which should probably be renamed the “US Senate Committee to Exempt Public Works Projects from Environmental Regulation,” she is being lauded by press and buzz for her fine bipartisan politicking with senators James Inhofe, R-OK, and David Vitter, R-LA, both snuggling deeply in the pockets of the oil-and-gas industry. California’s stylish Sen. Chartreuse has just charmed the pants off these good old oil-and-gas boys to pull more teeth out of the National Environmental Protection Act. Oh,  let’s just get up and dance down Bourbon Street.











We note with particular reverence the faith of Sen. Inhofe, from the Dust Bowl State, which contributed so many new citizens to California when the ploughed over southern prairie blew away and farmers were reduced to desperate migration. Nonetheless, the religious Sen. Inhofe doesn’t believe that mere human agency has any effect on the environment.


"With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it." Inhofe, 10-4-04

Sen. Vitter is a Harvard grad/Rhodes scholar, God-fearing, rightwing family man and one of Louisiana’s outstanding gifts to the working girl. He is almost as conservative as Inhofe and you feel he aspires to be just as against science, poor people, inheritance taxes and the regulatory function of government as Sen. God-Brought-the Dust-Bowl (perhaps to punish gay sod busters). A number of people from Louisiana also migrated to California during the Great Depression, which coincided with the Dust Bowl on the southern plains.
We would quote Vitter but we couldn’t find one that didn’t seem manufactured by his press chief in consultation with PR consultants, lawyers and lobbyists. Vitter is another fine young round heeled Rhodes Scholar from the South. And to borrow an ancient political custom from his region, we shall call him “Vitters” to express our attitude toward him.
With friends like these, we expect absolutely no help at all from Sen. Boxer in the fight to stop hydraulic fracking on the Monterey Shale Formation in California. However, it must be noted that her office has a fine reputation for constituent service on anything that is not political.
Returning to the sore subject of the Dust Bowl on last time, because even if history doesn’t repeat itself, as Mark Twain said, it can rhyme:

…for environmental historian Donald Worster, the twin calamities of the Depression and the Dust Bowl were no unlucky coincidence. "My argument," Worster declares, "is that there was a in fact a close link between the Dust Bowl and the Depression -- that the same society produced them both, and for similar reasons. Both events revealed fundamental weaknesses in the traditional culture of America, the one in ecological terms, the other in economic. Both offered a reason, and an opportunity, for substantial reform of that culture." (5)

In both the Depression and the Dust Bowl, Worster argues, the enemy at work is rampant, unfettered capitalism. The Dust Bowl "came about because the expansionary energy of the United States had finally encountered a volatile, marginal land, destroying the delicate ecological balance that had evolved there. We speak of farmers and plows on the plains and the damage they did, but the language is inadequate. What brought them to the region was a social system, a set of values, an economic order...Capitalism, it is my contention, has been decisive in this nation's use of nature." (5) – Kevin C. Murphy review of Donald Worster’s Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s.

And the same society produced the drought, the real estate boom and west side agribusiness and is setting up to produce a cstastrophic “solution” for the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta. The bipartisan federal Water Resources and Development Act of 2013 will play its part by weakening environmental review of Army Corps of Engineers projects.
In this company, Pope Francis is the modern voice!
But at least California could try again because plutocratic post-modernism ain't even ironic no more. Having turned one of its greatest writers into a label for a Bay Area business and entertainment destination, at least – former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown willing! – we could post the following passage at the entrance to the Square and his former neighborhood:

“Yes, yes," he shut off her attempted objection. "You would have destroyed my writing and my career. Realism is imperative to my nature, and the bourgeois spirit hates realism. The bourgeoisie is cowardly. It is afraid of life. And all your effort was to make me afraid of life. You would have formalized me. You would have compressed me into a two-by-four pigeonhole of life, where all life's values are unreal and false and vulgar." He felt her stir protestingly. "Vulgarity--a heart of vulgarity, I'll admit--is the basis of bourgeois refinement and culture. As I say, you wanted to formalize me to make me over into one of your own class, with your class ideas, class values and class prejudices.”  -- Jack London, Martin Eden, 1909

-- blj



Democracy Now!

Pope Francis: Protect Environment from "Human Greed"
Pope Francis delivered his first Christmas mass as head of the Catholic Church with a call for peace and protection of the environment. Francis told a crowd of 70,000 at St. Peter’s Basilica to pray for peace in conflict-ridden areas, including Syria and South Sudan. He also preached outreach to atheists and called for protection of the environment from "greed and rapacity."
Pope Francis: "Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity. Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by the recent typhoon."
Capital Press 
Drought task force to maximize water deliveries…Tim Hearden
SACRAMENTO — State officials say a drought task force set up by Gov. Jerry Brown will focus on maximizing the efficiency of water deliveries to farmers, particularly those in the western San Joaquin Valley.
The governor on Dec. 17 asked California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and others to form the task force to determine the state’s preparedness for a worsening drought that already has farmers anticipating few if any state or federal water allocations next spring.
“We must do everything we can to address the impacts of water shortages and move water from where it is available to where it is needed,” Brown said in a letter to top officials.
The state’s actions could include establishing a clearinghouse of water storage-related information, assessing the regions most affected by dry conditions and the impacts of drought on the regions’ economy, the governor stated.
The task force could help determine potential water transfers, infrastructure improvements, water trucking and other actions to alleviate the water shortages, Brown explained.
The administration “recognizes the potential seriousness of the current water situation for agriculture and is committed to doing what it can,” CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle told the Capital Press in an email.
Along with Ross, the task force will include State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, Department of Water Resources chairman Mark Cowin and Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci. The group will meet weekly, and its work could lead to a formal statewide drought declaration.
The task force’s formation comes as the Department of Water Resources has set up its own drought management team to help farmers and others make it through what is expected to be a dry 2014. Among the DWR’s principal concerns is the plight of farmers – especially those in the western San Joaquin Valley – who must operate with markedly less water than needed for crops, the agency said in a news release.
Jeanine Jones, the DWR’s interstate resources manager, said the department can’t make it rain or change biological opinions that have led to limitations on pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
However, the state and federal water projects “are working very hard with fishery agencies to improve operations and fine-tun as much as possible … to move water when it’s available,” Jones said.
When it does rain, water agencies might be able to use runoff water in streams below dams to meet needs south of the Delta, she said. The state has been working with sellers and buyers on water transfers as part of an executive order issued by Brown this spring, Jones said.
Officials from the DWR will make a presentation on the drought to the California Board of Food and Agriculture on Jan. 7. The 10 a.m. meeting will be held in the main auditorium at 1220 N St., Sacramento.
California Board of Food and Agriculture:
California Department of Water Resources:
Sacramento Bee
Sen. Boxer’s GOP deal-making on water bill upsets allies…Curtis Tate
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara Boxer’s longtime relationship with environmentalists has been strained by compromises she’s made in the committee she leads to get major pieces of public works legislation through a divided Senate.
The California Democrat has worked closely this year with Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a bill to advance U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water-infrastructure projects, including flood control, wetlands and beach restoration, navigation and port improvements, as well Sacramento’s Natomas Levee Improvement Program.
The Senate and House of Representatives are currently working to reconcile their versions of the Water Resources Development Act, which both chambers approved this year by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, an unusual achievement in a Congress that has agreed on so little.
Boxer wrote language into the bill that expedites environmental impact reviews so projects can be approved more quickly, drawing praise from Republicans and business groups that consider the process burdensome. But the language disappointed environmental groups that otherwise consider the four-term senator one of their staunchest allies in Congress.
Some of Boxer’s fellow Democrats and the Obama administration have expressed concern about the provisions.
Environmentalists have said the expedited reviews would undercut environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. They said it would give too much power to the Corps and take away opportunities for the public to participate in the review process.
“You need to have checks and balances on the Corps of Engineers,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Even the head of the Corps civil works program would prefer to operate under the existing environmental laws.
“The administration is concerned that provisions in the House and Senate bills could increase litigation risk, and actually slow project approval, depending on agency resources,” wrote Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, in a letter this month to Boxer and other lawmakers who are working out the final bill.
Boxer said her bill makes the reviews more efficient and does not compromise environmental protection.
“Our bill protects every environmental law,” she said in a statement, “while ensuring that there will not be delays in environmental restoration, flood control and projects that support commerce.”
Boxer, who’s been in Congress for 30 years and in the Senate for more than 20 of them, has evolved from a liberal firebrand to a dealmaker as she’s gained seniority. She’s found reliable partners in two Republicans on the environmental panel: Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking member, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a former committee chairman.
Though she is frequently at odds with the two Southern conservatives on a range of other issues, they have reached accommodations on water and surface transportation issues.
Boxer has also offered warm praise for her House counterpart on the water legislation, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
What’s more, in September, she presented the George W. Bush Presidential Library with her first Climate Hero Award for its work on energy conservation. Boxer had previously described the Bush administration as one that “could hardly be worse” on global warming.
Her usual allies have reacted with dismay, but they still regard her as one of their foremost champions.
“We think she is one of the great conservation leaders,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s advocacy center in Washington. “But the language (of her bill) is nothing in keeping with her extraordinary environmental record.”
Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., a member of her committee, said he considers Boxer’s environmental credentials “solid” and her bill’s intent “worthy,” but nonetheless voiced objections.
“The language, to me, presents problems,” said Cardin, who voted for the bill, but offered an amendment that sunsets the streamlining provisions after 10 years.
Critics of her legislation say it would worsen a $60 billion backlog of projects that have been approved, but for which there’s no funding. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the annual Corps civil works budget has ranged from $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion over the past decade and that an increasing share of the funds go toward operations and maintenance.
“This isn’t speeding anything up,” said Kolton.
Slesinger said Boxer’s bill values projects in the public interest such as flood control in Sacramento the same as less worthy ones.
“All you’re doing is making less likely that there isn’t going to be a good review,” he said.
Boxer has noted that at least one major environmental group, the Nature Conservancy, supported her bill. But, in a statement following the bill’s Senate passage in May, the group made it clear that it didn’t support all of the provisions.
In October, the group gave Boxer its “Nature’s Value” award, making her among 57 lawmakers in both parties that the group recognized for their work on conservation issues.
In a letter last month to members of the House-Senate conference committee who are working on the bill, 14 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and the League of Conservation Voters, asked the lawmakers to abandon the streamlining language.
“There is absolutely no evidence that the process would produce better projects,” the groups wrote.
Among the Senate provisions they proposed for elimination: Requiring the Corps to fine other federal agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service or the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as $20,000 a week if they missed the deadline to complete project reviews. The requirement “turns a cooperative process into an adversarial one,” the letter said.
The Obama administration, too, objects to the fines, Darcy wrote in her December letter, citing the budget cuts and staff furloughs due to mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
The environmental groups also wanted the lawmakers to strike a House provision eliminating public comment on most final environmental impact statements, “one of the most important opportunities” for public input, the groups wrote.
Rebecca Judd, legislative counsel for Earthjustice, said the groups would continue to work with Boxer, but “fundamentally disagree” with her on the bill.