The cycle of corruption in state and federal resource agencies in California

 It seems like at the end of these semi-automatic 8-year presidential regimes of the best administrations money can buy, there is a scandal in California involving the federal and state resource agencies with responsibility for enforcing environmental laws to protect wildlife species on land, in rivers and the ocean. The current report of misuse of public funds aimed at benefiting fish and wildlife in the Delta, instead using them to benefit irrigators and oil companies reminds us of a similar scandal in the Department of Interior eight years ago arising from a concerted attempt by politicians, business interests and federal resource-agency officials in their corrupt orbit, to destroy the federal Endangered Species Act by foul means, having failed in three attempts in Congress.
No doubt, professional historians could point to numerous examples of these cycles, which we might dub the Cycle of Corruption.
Despite periodic exposure by Interior's Office of Inspector General, very little is ever really done about it. Particularly irritating to the public interest in honest government is the continued tenure in offices like the Sacramento Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the same individuals, who are the mechanics -- the nuts-and-bolts guys and gals -- in the engine room of this death ship, the Great Ark Morituri,  containing a number of species of creatures about to be extinct. In these agencies only the cynical, the clever, the cowardly and dishonest survive these periodic "show trials" to work out their hatred of nature in the dark and silence of the following half-dozen years before public relations requires another show.

-- blj

Feds to Probe Misuse of State Funds for Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels

Dan Bacher


The Department of Interior’s Inspector General has opened an investigation into the possible illegal use of millions of dollars by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial Delta Tunnels Plan.
The investigation resulted from a complaint the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed on the behalf of a Bureau of Reclamation employee on February 19, 2016.
The complaint, made public in a statement from PEER on Monday, April 11, details how a funding agreement with DWR is “illegally siphoning off funds that are supposed to benefit fish and wildlife to a project that will principally benefit irrigators” under the California Water Fix, the newest name for the Delta Tunnels Plan.
The California Water Fix proposes to divert water from the Sacramento River, through two massive tunnels under the Delta, to be exported to corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods.
“California is improperly diverting federal grants to a giant slush fund for the California Water Fix,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who drafted the complaint. “In this case, the Bureau of Reclamation is abetting the State of California in breaking laws designed to ensure that federal investments to benefit wildlife are not used to their detriment.”
The PEER complaint charges that:
* Those funds, over $60 million, are earmarked for fish habitat improvements under the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. However, they are instead being expended on work that “will harm critical habitat for at least five endangered and threatened fish species. Out of millions spent not a dime went to habitat improvements;”
* The state double-billed for work it supposedly already did with an earlier $50 million grant;
* And the state collected all of the federal funds when the agreement was executed, in violation of a 50/50 matching requirement.
The complaint also notes, “The Bureau of Reclamation also ignored its own rule barring all the federal money from being expended before receiving the non-federal share. Nor has Water Resources indicated when and from what source it will supply its overdue match.”
In a letter dated April 8, 2016, Mary Kendall, Deputy Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Interior responded to the complaint, stating:
“We have carefully reviewed the information you provided to us and gathered additional information about the agreement. Based on this information we have decided to conduct a review into the issues raised in your letter and we expect to commence our work on this matter this month.”
Nancy Vogel, spokesperson for the California Department of Water Resources, said, ”DWR will cooperate fully with the IG (Inspector General) and has no comment beyond that.”
Delta Tunnels opponents welcomed the DOI Inspector General’s investigation of the alleged misuse of funds by DWR.
“We long suspected that federal funds were being illegally diverted into support for the tunnels and finally we’ve got a formal investigation of the matter,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), responding to news of the federal investigation. “The California Water Fix with its financing schemes, Enron accounting and the diversion of funds is a tottering house of cards swaying in the wind.”
The Delta Tunnels would not create one single drop of new water. Yet the project would hasten the extinction of Sacramento winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon, as well as imperiling the steelhead and salmon populations of the Trinity and Klamath rivers.
The announcement of the federal investigation of misuse of state funds takes place as the Delta Tunnels Plan is in total chaos. The State Water Resources Control Board announced on March 29 the suspension of upcoming deadlines for the California Water Fix water rights change petition in response to a request by the state and federal water agencies to extend dates and deadlines for the scheduled hearing, along with a number of other requests either to dismiss or delay the petition. (
Read the PEER letter:
See the Inspector General response:
Look at ongoing IG probe of diversion of Klamath drought relief moneys:
Join the debate on Facebook

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher

Badlands Journal
Department of Interior admits MacDonald wrongdoing
Press release from House Natural Resources Committee on Julia MacDonald. The Department of Interior admitted to the committee that MacDonald interferred with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on behalf of special interests in several Endangered Species Act cases. Two of those cases occurred in Merced County.
Badlands Journal editorial board

November 27, 2007
Allyson Groff, 202-226-9019
Allyson L. Groff
Communications Director
Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
Rahall: Interior Concedes MacDonald Meddled with Science
Washington, D.C. – In response to months of allegations about political tinkering within its own ranks and demands for reviews by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), the Department of the Interior today conceded that seven out of eight decisions made during the tenure of Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, warrant revision.
“Julie MacDonald, who was a civil engineer by training, should never have been allowed near the endangered species program. This announcement is the latest illustration of the depth of incompetence at the highest levels of management within the Interior Department and breadth of this Administration’s penchant for torpedoing science. Today we hear that seven out of eight decisions she made need to be scrapped, causing us once again to question the integrity of the entire program under her watch,” Rahall said.
Rahall has repeatedly pressed the agency to review possible political tampering within its ranks. A May 9 oversight hearing, called in the aftermath of a scathing Inspector General report, examined MacDonald’s role in politicizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Following up, Rahall sent two letters, dated May 17 and June 20, to Interior’s Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, requesting a departmental review of a number of ESA listing decisions made during MacDonald’s service.
The latest announcement outlines seven specific ESA decisions that Interior has determined were “inappropriately influenced” by MacDonald. The Fish and Wildlife Service had announced on July 20 that it intended to review eight ESA decisions where it appeared that MacDonald had played a significant role in asserting her own political interests to overrule scientific decisions on endangered species recovery.
“Julie MacDonald’s dubious leadership and waste of taxpayer dollars will now force the agency to divert precious time, attention, and resources to go back and see that the work is done in a reliable and untainted manner. The agency turned a blind eye to her actions – the repercussions of which will not only hurt American taxpayers, but could also imperil the future of the very creatures that the endangered species program intends to protect,” Rahall said.
Contact: Leda Huta, (202) 320-6467
Sarah Matsumoto (510) 520-1004
Press Statement of Leda Huta, Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition
Washington, DC- “The Endangered Species Coalition welcomes the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will revise seven endangered and threatened species decisions improperly influenced by political appointees.
“We are heartened to hear that the Canadian lynx, the California red-legged frog, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and other species on the brink of extinction may finally receive the protections they urgently need. However, this should be the first step in a complete investigation into the Bush Administration’s corruption and political manipulation of decisions affecting our nation’s endangered species.
“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of endangered species protections that have been weakened by political manipulations. The depth of the Bush Administration’s corruption and suppression of science has not yet been fully uncovered.
“We call on President Bush to reexamine all cases where there is documented evidence that Department of Interior officials interfered with scientific decisions. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall must ensure that this process is open and transparent and that the decisions be made based on science rather than politics.
“The Bush Administration has a long history of corruption and political interference in scientific decision making in endangered species decisions. A report released in March by the Inspector General of the Department of Interior found that Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald rode roughshod over numerous decisions by agency scientists concerning protection of the nation’s endangered species. The report also found that MacDonald violated federal rules by sending internal documents to industry lobbyists with ChevronTexaco, the Pacific Legal Foundation, California Farm Bureau, and others.
“We thank the members of the House Natural Resources Committee for holding oversight hearings regarding many of these decisions as well as other cases of political interference in endangered species decisions. We welcome the opportunity to work with Congress to ensure that this is a complete and thorough examination so that species on the brink of extinction receive the protections they deserve.”
As the guardian of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) and the wildlife it protects, the Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is composed of 380 environmental, conservation, religious, scientific, humane, sporting and business groups around the country. Our tools are public education, scientific information and citizen participation in decisions affecting the fate of at-risk species. Through extensive grassroots work, education, discussions with lawmakers, and the dissemination of information, we work to ensure that the Act itself, as well as all endangered animals and plants, can be passed on safely into the future.
Sarah Matsumoto
Deputy Director
Endangered Species Coalition
Oakland, CA
(510) 520-1004
Badlands Journal
Defenders of Wildlife Testimony before House Natural Resources Committee on Endangered Species Act rewrite
What should be noted by the public living in the north San Joaquin Valley is that this region has been the focal point of one of the strongest drives to destroy the Endangered Species Act in the nation. This destruction was led by:
Julia McDonald, a Bush political appointee to the Fish and Wildlife Service who, among other things, concocted an "economic" study on the vernal pool critical habitat designation that was thrown out of court;
and the Pomboza: Former Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, former chairman of the Resources Committee and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced;
Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation;
and a handful of regional developers led by a co-chairman of the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint for Progress, the latest veil of confusion cast over the public planning process in the region.
The Pomboza failed in three attempts legislatively to gut sections of the ESA that did not appeal to their developer contributors, so now the Bush administration is rewriting the Act behind closed doors. Democrats control Congress and Pombo was defeated for reelection because of his ties to Jack "The Singing Lobbyist" Abramoff and his assaults on the ESA. Another outstanding hater of the environment, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, and his wife are under investigation for ties to Abramoff.
Meanwhile, the area that the Pomboza and its paymasters wanted to strip of all environmental protection remains somewhat intact while nearby real estate development drowns in seas subprime mortgages, foreclosures and empty homes in the fourth least affordable housing market in the nation. The anchor tenant for Merced growth, UC Merced, cannot fill its seats, has been demoted to the status of a UC junior college (in a region already served by several community colleges and state universities) and has not yet received its Clean Water Act permit to build on vernal pool critical habitat land. Probably no single factor solidified hostility to local, state and federal environmental law in the north San Joaquin Valley more than the arrival of the University of California, its wealth, its prestige, its powerful propaganda machine and its army of lobbyists at all levels of government. UC crawled in bed with some of the most reactionary, anti-environmental politicians in the nation to build what former President of the state Senate John Burton called "nothing but a boondoggle."
As a member of the Badlands editorial board remarked the other day, the word to describe the speculative housing boom, bust and credit disaster befalling the region, coupled with the all out political assault of local, state and federal environmental regulation and law and laws of public process that have characterized the regional politics and economy since the late 1990s, is BOOMDOGGLE.
Badlands editorial staff
MAY 9, 2007
Mister Chairman and members of the Committee, I am Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President of Defenders of Wildlife. Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife has over 500,000 supporters across the nation and is dedicated to the protection and restoration of wild animals and plants in their natural communities.
As you know, prior to coming to Defenders of Wildlife, I worked for the federal government for almost 20 years, for both the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior. I served as Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997 to 2001. Thus, I have seen the Endangered Species Act from different perspectives: that of an agency working to comply with the law; working for and then leading the agency charged, along with other federal agencies, states, and private landowners, with implementing the law; and now leading a conservation organization working to ensure that the law is fully implemented to conserve threatened and endangered plants and wildlife.
The common lesson I have drawn from all of these experiences is that the Endangered Species Act is one of our most farsighted and important conservation laws. For more than 30 years, the Endangered Species Act has helped rescue hundreds of species from the catastrophic permanence of extinction. But the even greater achievement of the Endangered Species Act has been the efforts it has prompted to recover species to the point at which they no longer need its protections.
Recovery is what the Endangered Species Act is all about. It is because of the act that we have wolves in Yellowstone, manatees in Florida, and sea otters in California. We can marvel at the sight of bald eagles in the lower 48 states and other magnificent creatures like the peregrine falcon, the American alligator, and California condors largely because of the act.
Recovery Efforts Hamstrung by Lack of Support and Political Interference
Mister Chairman, because I know the difficulties faced by the dedicated professionals in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and other federal agencies implementing this law, I am reluctant to criticize those who are currently administering the Endangered Species Act. However, because I know how successful the act can be in recovering species and because of the deep regard I have for those dedicated professionals administering the act, I cannot ignore the damage that has been done to endangered species conservation under the current administration. Rather than enhancing recovery efforts to expand on existing successes, I firmly believe that this administration is actually hamstringing species recovery. It has undermined the scientific integrity of its Endangered Species Act programs with political interference and slowly starved the program of needed resources.
Those are serious charges, but look at the facts:
The top career professional position in charge of federal endangered species efforts has been vacant for more than a year, and the position has yet even to be advertised for filling.
The Fish and Wildlife Service programs involved in implementing the Endangered Species Act have lost at least 30 percent of the staff they once contained. In some areas, that rate may be close to 50 percent.
There has been a consistent and continuing failure by the administration to request adequate resources for endangered and threatened species conservation in the budgets presented to Congress. The fiscal year 2008 request is at least 20 percent ($40 million) below the minimum level needed.
Fewer listings of endangered and threatened species have occurred in this administration than in any previous one and 277 species remaining on the candidate species list still await initiation of the listing process. The 57 species brought under the protection of the Endangered Species Act in the last six years is just one quarter the number protected in the four years of the administration of President George Herbert Walker Bush. Listing is the crucial first step in catalyzing public and private recovery efforts.
The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has confirmed that former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald was “ heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping the Endangered Species Program’s scientific reports from the field.” The scope and magnitude of political interference revealed by OIG interviews is unprecedented in my experience. In one example cited by the OIG, a listing decision required by law to be rooted in science was instead ruled by the personal views of Deputy Assistant Secretary MacDonald, only later to be overturned by a court that refused to ignore the science. This and numerous other examples of political interference detailed in the OIG report have seriously compromised the integrity and credibility of the endangered species program.
More recently, as Dr. DellaSala details in his testimony, the administration has interjected political considerations heavily into recovery planning for the northern spotted owl. A so-called “Washington oversight committee,” which initially consisted of Deputy Assistant Secretary MacDonald and other senior-level administration political appointees, instructed the spotted owl recovery team of scientists and other experts to stop work on development of their conservation approach and develop a second approach that would offer greater “flexibility.” The increased flexibility option would result in weakening owl habitat protections by (1) delegating authority to the Forest Service and BLM to decide where to place blocks of owl habitat without creating lines on a map, (2) providing no information on total habitat acreages to be managed for owls, and (3) no longer anchoring spotted owl recovery to the Late Successional Reserves established under the Northwest Forest Plan. Frankly, the extent of this political interference in recovery planning so far exceeds anything I have ever encountered that it is astonishing for its sheer audacity.
An Administrative Rewrite of the Endangered Species Act Behind Closed Doors
Finally, the issues raised by the potential revisions to the administrative rules that guide implementation of the Endangered Species Act, some of which are dated as recently as March, are a source of great concern.
We appreciate the opportunities afforded some of us to discuss the very broad outlines of Endangered Species Act regulatory revisions with Deputy Secretary Scarlett, Director Hall, and Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA-Fisheries career staff. However, we have found neither our discussions nor the widely circulated, two-page fact sheet particularly illuminating.
In fact, the discussions and fact sheet have raised more questions and concerns than they have answered or allayed. Moreover, in addition to the very general descriptions provided by the administration, we have draft regulations dated as recently as two months ago that propose changes of such significance that they would seriously undermine the ability of the Endangered Species Act to protect and recover imperiled species.
Although the administration maintains that the leaked documents do not reflect its current intentions, the information they have provided so far contains scant information on which of these regulatory changes or portions of them remain on the table. Regardless, there are no guarantees that revisions off the table now will not find their way back to the table in any proposed or final rulemaking.
As we noted in our meetings with Deputy Secretary Scarlett and Director Hall, we believe that the interests of endangered and threatened species recovery would best be served by working together openly on matters for which there is support among a wide variety of interests. In the absence of any inclusive process like this, however, it is only prudent that the Congress and organizations like Defenders of Wildlife focus on existing examples of specific administrative rule changes because we already have seen several iterations of them and we may see still more. These changes are of deep concern for at least four reasons.
First, although early intervention to halt the decline of species is clearly advisable, the proposed changes would almost certainly have the effect of only allowing listing – and the conservation measures prompted by a listing – once species are in extreme peril. The effect of postponing corrective action will be to make recovery and eventual delisting of species even harder and more expensive than it already is and more unlikely to occur in any reasonable time frame.
Second, over the years, the Section 7 consultation process between the Service and other federal agencies has been one of the act’s most successful provisions in reconciling species conservation needs with other objectives. For example, progress towards the conservation of species such as the grizzly bear and piping plover would have been virtually inconceivable without the beneficial influence of Section 7. Yet, the proposed changes and fact sheet descriptions appear to reduce the scope of Section 7, reduce the role of the Fish and Wildlife Service in its implementation, and weaken the substantive standards that apply to federal agency actions. The net effect of these changes, like those described above with respect to listing, will almost certainly be to make species recovery less likely rather than more likely.
Third, the draft regulations would re-define the term “conservation” so that it no longer would be synonymous with recovery and remove the term “recovery” from many places in the regulations. Proposed rule changes, for example, would re-word the statutory language on recovery plan contents to remove statements that the goal of plan requirements is the conservation and survival of species and remove the term “recovery” and the language describing it as a goal from the reasons to delist a species. We find it difficult to reconcile these proposed changes with improving recovery of species under the Endangered Species Act.
Fourth, the proposed regulatory revisions of March 2007 construe the Endangered Species Act mandate for federal-state cooperation to mean delegation of current federal responsibilities to the states. The proposed changes would give the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce very broad discretion to grant states authority to assume responsibility for carrying out much of the endangered species program. The proposal would allow states to “request and be given the lead role in many aspects of the Act, including, but not limited to, Section 4, Section 7, and Section 10 of the Act.” The administration’s fact sheet on the regulation changes appears to describe a similar delegation of responsibility to the states, a fact acknowledged in meetings with the administration.
As stewards of the plants and animals within their borders, states are important partners in the conservation of threatened and endangered species. The Endangered Species Act gives states wide opportunities to create their own programs for protection and recovery, and to contribute to federal efforts as well. By increasing the legal protections given to imperiled plants and animals within their borders, state endangered species laws can complement the federal law, supplementing protection of species already listed so that recovery can be achieved. Strong state laws and state Wildlife Action Plans also can protect species not listed under the federal act, thereby lessening the need for federal listing.
As of 2005, however, most of the existing 45 state endangered species acts merely provide a mechanism for listing and prohibit the direct killing of listed species. The scope of state prohibitions on take generally is narrower than the ESA’s take prohibition. For instance, only nine states make it illegal to harm listed species. Massachusetts is the lone state to bar the “disruption of nesting, breeding, feeding or migratory activity.” Georgia is the only state to explicitly include destruction of habitat in its take prohibitions, and it doesn’t apply to private lands. No mechanisms exist in 32 state endangered species laws for recovery, consultation, or critical habitat designation. Just five states require recovery plans. And five states have no endangered species law at all, simply relying on the federal act or nongame programs.
In response to a nationwide survey conducted by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Wildlife Law on state endangered species protection in 1998, state agency staff identified a number of constraints to assumption of a greater role in conservation of endangered species. These included a general lack of funding and staff and a reluctance or lack of preparation to take on more responsibilities under the federal law.
Most significantly, however, state agency staff pointed to the difficulties created by a patchwork of inconsistent and sometimes ineffective state laws in protecting and recovering species that occur in multiple states. This situation remains unchanged in 2007. The administration’s draft regulations propose to resolve this dilemma by requiring that a state “provide for coordination with all other States within the current range of the species affected by such granted authority or delegated activities.” But this approach fails to address the concerns identified by state fish and wildlife agency staff. It also appears to place little value on the broad, interstate view and coordination that can be provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service or NOAA-Fisheries for species having multi-state distributions.
The administration’s proposed delegation of Endangered Species Act authority to the states is a change to the law of such significance that it should be brought to Congress for its consideration, not put in place by means of administrative fiat. There is no evidence in three decades of Endangered Species Act legislative history that Members of Congress or administration officials were sufficiently unhappy with the relative federal and state roles to even raise it as an issue on the six occasions in which Endangered Species Act amendments were discussed and adopted between 1976 and 1988.
A More Constructive Approach to Improving Conservation of Imperiled Species
The general theme of all the administrative rule changes we have seen from, or discussed with, the administration is a withdrawal of the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA-Fisheries from implementation of the Endangered Species Act. Having hamstrung the endangered species program by starving it of resources and injecting political considerations into its science, the administration’s rewrite of the ESA rules now would have the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA-Fisheries shed the responsibility entrusted to them by Congress on the basis that the agencies lack sufficient resources and expertise.
Defenders of Wildlife is committed to improving protection and recovery of endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and we have worked with you, Mr. Chairman, and others toward that end. But all indications ranging from leaked documents to discussions with administration officials are that the administration is considering policy changes of such scope and magnitude that they should be brought to Congress for its consideration as amendments to the Endangered Species Act.
Major changes to the Endangered Species Act are on a fast track behind closed doors. A spokesperson for the Interior Department was quoted in an April 26 Washington Times article as saying, "When we put out proposed regulations, we will hold a press conference and tell everyone what we are doing."
We have asked the administration to adopt a different, more constructive approach. We have asked that they work with a broad array of stakeholders to find common ground on ways to improve conservation of imperiled species prior to going forward with any proposal. The success of the common endeavor we seek hinges on openness and transparency. A key first step in that direction is for the administration to share the text of any changes in the Endangered Species Act regulations currently are under consideration in a collaborative manner, not by holding a press conference and publishing proposed regulations.
Mister Chairman, the absence of meaningful congressional oversight of the Administration’s implementation of the Endangered Species Act for the past six years has contributed to each of the problems I have described today. As you are well aware, under previous leadership of this Committee, hearings were devoted more to undermining the Endangered Species Act, rather than making sure that those charged with implementing the law were doing so in a manner that would achieve successful conservation of endangered species. I am pleased that, under your leadership Mister Chairman, and as today’s hearing demonstrates, Congress is reasserting its rightful place in conducting oversight.
I urge you to continue to make full use of this Committee’s oversight authority in the weeks and months ahead to insist that the administration work cooperatively with Congress and stakeholders rather than hurriedly pursuing unilateral amendments to the Endangered Species Act via administrative rulemaking. Preventing the extinction of important plants and wildlife is of such critical importance that close oversight is essential to assure the appropriate protection of our natural resources and responsible stewardship by this administration.
Thank you for considering my testimony. I’ll be happy to answer questions.