Draining the Swamp? Senate Confirms Brenda Burman, Donald Trump's Reclamation Commissioner
By Dan Bacher
The federal fix for the California WaterFix is now in.-- blj
On November 16, the U.S. Senate confirmed Brenda Burman, who served as a Department of Interior official under President G.W. Bush and later as special projects manager for the Metropolitan Water District MWD of Southern California, as the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner.
MWD, along with Stewart and Lynda Resnick of the Wonderful Company and other corporate agribusiness interests, is one of key proponents of the California WaterFix project, a controversial proposal to build two massive 35 mile long tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
"Finally! After more than 142 days, I'm excited to welcome Brenda Burman to lead the Bureau of Reclamation," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in a statement. "Brenda is a veteran of the Bureau and her extensive experience on water projects across the country will be an incredible asset for the Department. After senseless and unprecedented hold-ups in the Senate, we can finally move forward with key water projects across the country."
Zinke recently accused Senate Democrats of holding four Trump adminstration Interior nominees "hostage" to a political agenda that includes opposition to his review of presidentially designated monuments: https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2017-11-10/zinke-says-democrats-holding-interior-nominees-hostage
Senator Richard Durbin had placed holds on Berman and three other Interior nominees, including Susan Combs, nominated as assistant secretary for policy, management and budget; Joseph Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management; Ryan Nelson, solicitor.
“I am deeply honored for the opportunity to lead this organization,” said Brenda Burman after being confirmed. “The employees of Reclamation are dedicated to working through the most difficult water issues and managing water in the West. I look forward to working with Secretary Zinke, the Administration, and our many partners, contractors and customers to solve our most pressing water issues.”
Roger K. Patterson, Assistant General Manager for the Metropolitan Water District of California, Burman’s former employer, praised Trump’s choice for Reclamation Commissioner on June 27 in a statement.
"As someone who has over 10 years experience as a Regional Director with Bureau of Reclamation in two separate Regions, I have seen what it takes to succeed as Commissioner,” said Patterson. “Without a doubt, Brenda has the experience, skills, energy and vision to be a successful. I'm excited about the work she will do and I wish her the best."
After her confirmation, Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) Executive Director Timothy Quinn gushed, “ACWA enthusiastically supports the confirmation of Brenda Burman as commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.”
“Brenda brings decades of water policy expertise to her new role. Having served as director of water policy for Arizona’s Salt River Project and as a special projects manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Brenda also has a keen understanding of the myriad of issues facing water managers in the West,” he said.
For those not familiar with the agency, the Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesale provider of water in the country. It delivers water to more than 31 million people and provides one out of five western farmers with irrigation water for farmland that produces much of the nation’s produce. Reclamation is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States.
Reclamation is also the partner with the California Department of Water Resources in the planning, construction and operation of the Delta Tunnels, a project that would cost anywhere from $18 billion to $68 billion while providing not one drop of new water. Tunnels opponents consider the project to be potentially the most environmentally destructive public works project in U.S. history.
Brenda Burman is the first-ever woman to lead the Bureau. From 2006 to 2008 under the G.W. Bush administration, she served as Reclamation’s Deputy Commissioner for External and Intergovernmental Affairs and the Deputy Assistant Secretary.
Before her current stint at Interior, Burman served as the Director of Water Policy for Arizona’s Salt River Project. From 2011 to 2015, Burman worked as the special project manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, “the largest water provider in the country.”
She also worked for The Nature Conservancy as senator water policy administrator and U.S. Senator Jon Kyl. For more information on Burman’s background, go here:
Burman’s appointment comes at a critical time for Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels project. On October 25, a Trump administration official issued contradictory statements about continued federal support for the California Water Fix.
After an administration official first said the administration didn’t support the Delta Tunnels, he later that day said the Department of Interior would continue supporting the project but wouldn’t provide funding for it.
Interior deputy communications director Russell Newell first told Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press that “the Trump administration did not fund the project and chose to not move forward” with the project to build two giant tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
When asked if this meant that the Trump administration opposed the California WaterFix project, Newell said, “Yes.”
In a tweet, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) a vocal critic of the project, responded, “Bombshell blow to Delta Tunnels/Water Fix: Trump admin officially opposes. Time 4 long-needed reality check on this?”
After the AP story was published, Newell that afternoon issued a statement “clarifying” Interior’s position on the Delta Tunnels, backing off from the position taken earlier, and stating that the agency “does not expect to participate in the construction or funding of the CA WaterFix.”
“While the Department of the Interior shares the goals of the state of California to deliver water with more certainty, eliminating risks to the California water supply, and improving the environment, at this time, the Department under the current state proposal does not expect to participate in the construction or funding of the CA WaterFix. The Department and Reclamation will continue to work with the state and stakeholders as the project is further developed,” the department said.
The two conflicting statements by the Trump administration come in response to the previous day’s request by Huffman and five other House Democrats for a new federal investigation of the funding for Brown’s proposed tunnels project. That request fellows the Inspector General’s audit of funding for the project.
Led by Representatives Huffman and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the Natural Resources Committee’s Ranking Member, the six House Democrats called on the GAO to open a “new investigation into the misuse of taxpayer funds” by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation. California Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) also signed the letter sent to the Comptroller General of the United States, Gene L. Dodaro.
“In its September audit, the Interior Department’s Inspector General found that the Bureau of Reclamation improperly subsidized the planning process for the California WaterFix project, also known as the ‘Delta Tunnels,’” according to a statement from Huffman’s Office. “The audit identified at least $84 million in taypayer funds spent without disclosure to Congress as required by law, and kept hidden from other water users, stakeholders, and the public.”
You can read the full piece on the Representatives’ call for a probe here: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/10/24/1709544/-Breaking-House-Democrats-seek-GAO-probe-into-federal-scheme-to-fund-Delta-Tunnels
Six Trump administration nominees still await confirmation, including Joe Balash for Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Susan Combs for Assistant Secretary of Policy, Management, & Budget, Ryan Nelson for Solicitor, newly nominated Tim Petty for Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Tara Sweeney for Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, and Steven Gardner for Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, according to Zinke’s Office.
Trump slashes size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in Utah
President signs two proclamations slashing protections for Utah monuments, representing a triumph for fossil fuel industries, ranchers and Republicans
David Smith in Washington and Oliver Milman in New York
Monday 4 December 2017 20.34 ESTFirst published on Monday 4 December 2017 14.51 EST
Donald Trump was widely condemned on Monday for drastically shrinking two national monuments, representing the biggest elimination of public lands protection in US history.
'We'll see the battle lines': Trump faced by Native American alliance over Bears Ears
The president modified designations for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, potentially opening the land to big corporate developers and the oil and gas industry. The move – a repudiation of past presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton – seems certain to be challenged in court.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said at the state capitol in Salt Lake City.“And guess what? They’re wrong.
“The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know the best how to take care of your land. You know how to protect it, and you know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come.”
Bears Ears will be slashed from nearly 1.5m acres to 228,784 acres, while Staircase will be halved from around 2m acres to 1,006,341 acres.
Trump, who has focused intently on undoing Barack Obama’s legacy, described his predecessor’s Antiquities Act designations as a threat to people’s way of life, imposing restrictions on hunting, ranching and economic development. “As many of you know, past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act,” he continued.
“This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments. Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control.”
Trump claimed: “With the action I’m taking today, we will not only give back your voice over the use of this land, we will also restore your access and your enjoyment. Public lands will once again be for public use because we know that people who are free to use their land and enjoy their land are the people most determined to conserve their land.”
But his move to shrink the national monuments represents a triumph for fossil fuel industries, ranchers and Republicans, particularly those representing Utah, who have pushed the president to undo protections put in place by previous administrations that curb activities such as oil drilling and cattle grazing.
In April, promising to “end another egregious use of government power”, Trump ordered a review of national monuments declared since the 1990s.
The interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, who has been a vocal proponent of allowing greater development including mining on public lands, recommended shrinking six monuments and altering the management plans of a further four.
If Trump follows through with all those recommendations, protected areas in Nevada, Oregon and California would be resized, as well as two vast marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean. The areas could be remodeled to allow activities such as timber production, grazing or commercial fishing.
Zinke told reporters on Air Force One that “no one loves public land more than I do” and he is a “steadfast believer in public lands for public use” but added: “When a monument is used to prevent rather than protect, the president is right to take action.”
In the case of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Zinke said the whole Utah congressional delegation supports Trump’s move, as well as the governor and commissioner that represents the Navajo districts.
He insisted that this was not an energy issue, claiming that there was no oil and gas in Bears Ears, though this is not clearcut. There are dozens of abandoned mines in Bears Ears but none has been operational for at least 20 years and national monument designation has placed restrictions on new energy development.
However, there is oil and gas production clustered near the northern and eastern borders of the monument and some companies believe there is potential for more. Since 2013, energy firms have unsuccessfully asked the federal Bureau of Land Management to lease more than 100,000 acres for oil and gas drilling either near or within what is now Bears Ears’ boundaries.
While the Trump administration has touted an economic boon from an influx of development, opponents point out that the tourism and local business stimulated by monument declarations is often far more valuable. Companies such as Patagonia, the clothing firm, have railed against Trump’s plan.
In Utah, the president’s decision prompted protests before his arrival to announce it. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators converged on the steps of the Utah state capitol.
“There’s nothing in our data that’d say, politically, that this is popular,” Lori Weigel, a Republican pollster in Denver, told the Associated Press of efforts to trim monuments.
“I can’t say why Utah elected officials have taken this on more than in other states. But we see widespread recognition that designation of protected land is valued.”
The monuments provide a bulwark for intrinsic values such as natural beauty, endangered species and, importantly to local tribes, heritage. Bears Ears, named after two towering buttes in the heart of the protected area, has around 100,000 archaeological sites, including Native American ceremonial grounds, graves and rock art.
The five Native American tribes that form the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition say legal action is likely against Trump’s decisions on monuments in Utah. Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe business committee, told the Guardian this week Trump’s policy was “another slap in the face in the overall relationship between the federal government and the tribes, and local people”.
US presidents are given sweeping power to protect land and waters under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which was signed by Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed hunter and conservationist. Since then, more than 150 sites have been unilaterally designated monuments by presidents, including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
Obama frequently wielded this power amid Republican howls about executive overreach, creating or expanding 34 national monuments, including Bears Ears last December. Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated by Clinton in 1996.
The Trump administration’s attempt to scale back this legacy will almost certainly encounter a thicket of legal action from enraged environmental groups.
“This is a shameful and illegal attack on our nation’s protected lands,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and now head of Defenders of Wildlife. “Teddy Roosevelt is rolling in his grave. We’ll be seeing President Trump in court.”
Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth, said: “Donald Trump is overseeing the largest elimination of protected areas in US history. Dismantling these monuments is Trump’s latest gift to the corporate interests who backed his campaign. This action is unprecedented and will end up in court.
“Public lands are to be managed for the public, not plundered by private interests that want to make billions off public resources. The majority of Americans want to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
The White House noted that presidents have modified the boundaries to remove lands from monuments 18 times in the past. It said the most significant reduction occurred in 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson halved Mount Olympus national monument, which is now a national park.
But Democrats were also swift to condemn Trump’s action. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate energy and natural resources committee, said: “Veterans, sportsmen, climbers, hikers and the outdoor economy all depend on open space.
“Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante have been driving a vibrant outdoor economy for years. Now President Trump is using unlawful authority to pollute these special places. His administration deserves an ‘F’ for stewardship.”
Raúl Grijalva, ranking Democrat on the House natural resources committee, added: “This order to destroy our national monuments is as legally sound as the Muslim ban. Mr Trump seems to take a perverse joy in ignoring federal law and dismissing the wishes of Native American tribes, conservation leaders and millions of everyday Americans.
“Presidents don’t have the power to wipe existing monuments off the map and Republicans know it. This is an unpopular president making unpopular decisions without proper legal authority on behalf of ideological extremists and the oil and gas industry. This is the damage that results when we leave Republicans in charge.”
The Design Construction Enterprise (a CA WaterFix unit staffed by Metropolitan Water District employees and associates embedded in the Department of Water Resources), will be organizing into a Construction Joint Powers Authority and awarding contracts despite reports of dubious financial arrangements and project management qualifications asreported by the State Auditor. -- Restore the Delta, Dec. 7, 2017
Restore the Delta
Notes from CA WaterFix Industry Day: DWR to Award up to $1 Billion in Contracts for Proposal, Before Completing Permit Process & Financial Analysis
Sacramento – Officials for CA WaterFix Industry Day announced that while not all funding is available for WaterFix presently, that the first $1 billion for four contracts will be made public today, December 7, 2017. The Design Construction Enterprise (a CA WaterFix unit staffed by Metropolitan Water District employees and associates embedded in the Department of Water Resources), will be organizing into a Construction Joint Powers Authority and awarding contracts despite reports of dubious financial arrangements and project management qualifications asreported by the State Auditor.
Friends of the Restore the Delta campaign attending CA WaterFix Industry Day noted that program presenters barely acknowledged that the permit process is far from finished, or which agency sourced the initial $1 billion in funding. These notes can be read here, while official program materials can be accessed here.
Project officials also claimed some sort of groundbreaking ceremonies will take place during December 18, 2018, despite project design stated to be 5% complete—a shift from the original 10% designed status noted by project officials before the State Water Resources Control Board and at other public agency meetings.
Restore the Delta executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said,
“It is my sincere hope that our union brothers and sisters working in construction and veterans business groups will take heed of the findings by the State Auditor regarding the project’s finances before making business plans with the state for the project. Hearings for the Validation Suit filed by the Department of Water Resources and associated responses have been delayed; permitting for the project is far from complete; and the majority of water agencies have not committed to paying for the project.
“The idea that DWR can offer $1 billion in contracts for a project that has not been permitted by State and Federal agencies is an outrageous use of public money. We are calling on the Delta Legislative Caucus and other legislative budget committee leaders to hold immediate hearings as to what is transpiring with the Department of Water Resources. They are in a rush to circumvent regular public permitting processes so as to hold “a theatrical groundbreaking” to appease Governor Brown before he leaves office. This is a blatant misuse of public money, regardless of whether it is paid for by state taxpayers or water ratepayers. The project is not permitted, not yet approved, and the offering of contracts now puts the financial cart before the horse.”
Shades of UC Merced -- Badlands Journal Editorial Board, Dec. 9, 2017