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.
(1) COMMENTS ON A PROPOSED HILMAR CHEESE COMPANY WELL
Sept. 9, 2005: Letter to Editor, Modesto Bee
These remarks are intended to supplement more technical comments made in a letter sent to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early August. If you have ever filled a balloon with water and squeezed it, you know that, when you push on one side, you cause the balloon to bulge out elsewhere. The same principle applies to water underground. When you inject water into a saturated aquifer underground, you force water already there to go elsewhere. That; “elsewhere” has to be upward. The water in the rocks above that aquifer is quite salty for perhaps 2,000 feet and, when that salty water moves upward, it will mix with good water and ruin it for human use.
It would be bad enough if that overlying salty water only moved upward next to the well, but it can go a mile or more in any direction before contaminating near-surface good water, The injected water itself won’t show up near the surface for a long time, but the salty water it pushes ahead of itself can show up in a fairly short time.
I am amazed that EPA technical people did not reject this injection well proposal immediately, given the situation I have described.
/ ORIGINAL SIGNED /
Vance C. Kennedy, Ph, D.
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.
Hilmar Cheese decries plan critics
Plant: State regulators' letter may create conflict of interest
By MICHAEL G. MOONEY
BEE STAFF WRITER
Last Updated: November 24, 2005, 04:22:09 AM PST
Representatives of Hilmar Cheese Co. on Wednesday blasted state regulators who want the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board to reject a proposed $3 million settlement of the company's long-standing water pollution violations.
Earlier this week, the Office of Statewide Initiatives — a unit of the State Water Resources Control Board — issued a letter criticizing the settlement pact because it was hammered out behind closed doors and would let Hilmar Cheese indefinitely pollute groundwater surrounding its Merced County plant, about a half mile north of Hilmar on Lander Avenue.
"We recommend that the proposed settlement agreement be rejected," the letter states, "and that an order be issued containing a schedule designed to return the discharger to compliance."
The letter is signed by John Norton, chief of the Office of Statewide Initiatives. The Bee was unable to reach Norton for comment Wednesday.
Members of the regional water board are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to accept the settlement.
"It (Norton's letter) is so fraught with reckless, inappropriate and inaccurate statements that I can't even begin to elaborate," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for Hilmar Cheese and senior vice president with the Dolphin Group public relations firm. "It is not in any way the official position of the State Water Resources Control Board."
Hilmar attorney Mark Fogelman, in a letter issued Wednesday afternoon, questions the propriety of OSI sending the letter to the regional water board and contends it creates a potential conflict of interest because the state water board likely will review and determine the "correctness" of the regional board's action on the proposed settlement.
"No subdivision or part of the state board should be commenting on the matter when it is pending before the regional board," Fogelman wrote, "and no such comments should be given any weight whatsoever in the deliberations of the regional board."
Hilmar Cheese contends the OSI should have submitted its comments to the state water board's executive director, Celeste Cantú.
"However, the OSI comments indicate that Executive Director Cantú never authorized the filing of the comments," Fogelman wrote.
The Bee was unable to reach Cantú for comment Wednesday.
But William L. Rukeyser, a state water board spokesman, said Norton and other OSI staffers did follow proper procedures by putting their concerns about the proposed settlement in writing.
Rukeyser said Norton took care in the letter to point out that there had been no consultations between his unit and the state water board.
Nor had there been any contact, he said, between Norton and any of the attorneys involved in negotiating the proposed settlement.
Rukeyser did say, however, that attorney Catherine George, who represented the regional board in the negotiations with Hilmar Cheese, was aware of the OSI's reports on the water pollution allegations. He insisted, however, that the proceeding had not been tainted.
Hilmar spokesman Boccadoro was not convinced.
"Clearly," he said, "this is an attempt to grossly misrepresent the facts, to confuse and influence inappropriately the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board."
(5) supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/ decisions/lower_court/99-16981.pdf