Delta must be saved, say all speakers at symposium...Bee Staff Reports
LODI -- The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is not only worth saving but it also is essential that it be saved was the message delivered loudly and clearly by a wide array of politicians, activists, lawyers and environmentalists Saturday at symposium attended by about 250 people.
Every speaker on five panels insisted that the delta must be saved, and most decried any attempts to divert water around the delta or take more for farms and cities outside the region.
The delta, which stretches from around Ripon to north of Sacramento, is the largest estuary on the Pacific coast of North America. It drains the entire Central Valley watershed, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. It has been the focus of intense political debate over the past year as drought and court decisions to protect endangered fish species have curtailed water exports through the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project.
Farmers in the south San Joaquin Valley are insisting that pumping be resumed while many in Sacramento are recommending that a canal be built through or around the delta to move Sacramento River water directly to the pumps.
The symposium was sponsored by Restore the Delta, a coalition of landowners, activists and environmentalists based in Stockton.
Canal called a bad concept
Several of those who spoke insisted that such a canal is a bad idea.
"Our opponents are extremely well-organized and well-funded," said Bill Jennings, a longtime delta advocate and recipient of an award from Restore the Delta. "And they are perfectly willing to sacrifice farmers (and) fish ... in order to irrigate the desert."
Manteca farmer Alex Hildebrand also received an award, and told the audience, "Societies rise, flourish and eventually crash because they misuse their water. ... As those ancient civilizations fell, they trashed their environment."
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who represents four of the five counties that make up the delta, including parts of San Joaquin County, spoke of her plan to create a Delta Conservancy, which would act as a conduit for funds and studies for the area.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, was the keynote speaker and endorsed the concept if not the specifics. "We need to protect this delta, and we're going to do that," he told the crowd in his brief remarks. But he also sounded a vaguely conciliatory tone: "My understanding is that there's never been a war fought in the United States over water -- and we're not going to start one now."
But he was clear that the delta must be protected: "The time for action is now. Twenty years from now we're going to look back on this and say, 'We did what we had to do.' "
Among others in attendance were brothers Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, and Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, both members of the Assembly; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; retired state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, the third recipient of an award; and former Assembly member Greg Aghazarian.
This time, Cogdill's dam plan should hold water with peers...Editorial
Hopefully, people are finally getting the message that California is dry. Very dry. Certainly, there has been no shortage of messengers.
Friday, Gov. Schwarzenegger declared this the third consecutive year of drought. He asked everyone to use 20 percent less water and take steps to get ready for even drier times, saying, "We must prepare for the worst -- a fourth, fifth or even sixth year of drought."
Thursday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack created a Federal Drought Action Team specifically to help California deal with its problem. Congressmen Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza were quick to praise the move, calling this a "human crisis."
Also Thursday, a newly formed group of Latino business and civic leaders called the Latino Water Coalition joined its voice to all those others and reached out to urban and Southern California Latino legislators to be part of the solution. We hope they're listening.
Perhaps the most important message was delivered by Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto on Wednesday when he submitted (or re-submitted) legislation that would put a $9.8 billion water bond on the November 2010 ballot. While the others were responding to this year's crisis, Cogdill was thinking well into the future.
His plan would provide $3 billion for additional storage, such as a new reservoir at Temperance Flat near Fresno and one west of Sacramento. New storage is essential if the models showing a warming planet are correct. In the past, water contained in snow has remained in the mountains until May or June. But as our planet warms, that snow will melt sooner and we'll have to have someplace to store it until we need it, or it will simply gush out to sea.
Cogdill's bond package would also provide $520 million for conservation -- which is absolutely essential -- and $950 million to improve water quality.
He offered the same legislation last year and had the support of Schwarzenegger and many others. But his plan was blocked by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata -- who has since been termed out. This year could be -- should be -- different. Cogdill has support on both sides of the aisle. Let's hope he has enough.
Hundreds expelled from Chukchansi tribe
Those who remain could receive significantly larger share of Coarsegold casino payouts....Chris Collins
With millions of dollars flowing into the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino near Coarsegold each month, the Indians of the Picayune Rancheria have tapped into a source of wealth they hope will end decades of poverty.
But not everyone gets to share the bounty.
Over the last several years, the tribe has expelled about half its members, stripping them of their Native American heritage, former members say.
Hundreds have been cut from the rolls even though many could clearly document their Chukchansi descent, they said. Some had been tribal leaders. Even two of the last 10 people who speak the tribe's language were removed, one former member said.
Those who were kicked out of the tribe, including the jobless or elderly, lost health-care benefits, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. subsidies, college scholarships and any hope for a share of casino profits.
Those who remain could receive significantly larger payouts from the casino now that membership has been slashed, former members say.
"What better way to get more money in the future than to whittle down your tribe?" asked Mary Chapman, a 71-year-old retired Fresno County worker who says she was expelled after she questioned the disenrollments.
Tribal Chairman Morris Reid says the disenrollments were necessary to correct past membership mistakes and had nothing to do with increasing the wealth of remaining tribal members.
"We had to find out if they were qualified Chukchansi," he said. "It was a process and procedure that had to be followed."
But some who have been expelled say the move contradicts the original purpose of Indian gaming: to draw a long-suffering people out of poverty and unite them in prosperity.
"It's really a sad day when your people are engaging in the theft of your identity to line their pockets," said Cathy Cory, a special-education teacher in Porterville who was disenrolled along with 41 members of her family.
The Chukchansi tribe had 23 members two decades ago after it was officially recognized by the federal government. The tribe boosted membership to more than 1,500 by the late 1990s, in part to increase federal aid, tribal leaders later said.
Then, as the sparkling casino doors swung open in 2003, the seven-member tribal council decided it had enrolled too many people. It ordered a membership audit and, according to former members, kicked out more than 500 members in 2006. It had already expelled more than 200 members years earlier.
Those disenrolled include retirees and children, teachers and college students -- some in the Valley and others scattered across the country. The tribal council voted to kick out members who had served on tribal committees and on the tribal council, and booted at least one sitting council member. Others were removed from the tribe even though their blood relatives were allowed to stay.
The federal government hasn't recorded membership since 2005, but former members say the tribe has about 760 people. Reid, the chairman, estimated membership at 900 to 1,100, but said he did not have an exact count.
Reid said more Chukchansi Indians will be enrolled in the coming years, but did not offer specifics.
Because Indian tribes are considered sovereign nations, the federal government and U.S. courts have no say in tribal disputes. Much of the information about the disenrollments comes from former casino managers and former tribal members -- some of whom were in leadership positions -- and copies of internal tribal documents they provided. Reid gave a brief phone interview, but did not return later calls. Attorneys for the tribe did not return calls.
Disenrollments by casino-owning tribes have made headlines across the country for years. The epicenter of the debate is in California, where the 57 Indian gaming tribes bring in more than $7 billion a year.
In the last decade, about 2,500 people have been kicked out of 14 California tribes, almost all of them gaming tribes, said Laura Wass, the Central California director for the American Indian Movement and a leading advocate for disenrolled Indians. Chukchansi has been the most ambitious, accounting for about one-third of the disenrollments, said Wass, who has worked closely with expelled Chukchansi Indians and members disenrolled from other tribes.
In 2005, about a year before the Chukchansi disenrollments, the tribe's membership overwhelmingly voted to stop the disenrollments, said Bryan Galt, a former chairman of the tribe's enrollment committee. But the tribal council decided the vote was invalid because some members who voted had pending disenrollment hearings.
A similar measure was put to a vote in December 2008. By then, more than 500 members had been expelled -- almost half the tribe -- and the amendment failed by a slim margin.
Former members fear that those with political clout in the tribe will likely interpret the vote as a signal that they can plow ahead with more disenrollments.
Jeff Livingston, who was the casino's CEO from 2005 until early 2008 and is not a member of any tribe, said tribal members and even tribal leaders constantly worry about whether they will be the next to be expelled.
"To this day, everybody's looking over their shoulder. The trust is gone," said Livingston, who said he was fired from his job after getting into a dispute with tribal leaders. "There are people in there and on the board who will slim it down until they're satisfied."
Big money: $1.5m a day
According to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, about 28% of the tribe was unemployed in 2005, even before the recession.
But prosperity seems to be just around the corner for those who remain.
The tribe's $180 million, 300,000-square-foot casino off Highway 41 has 1,800 slot machines, 48 card tables, and seven restaurants. In 2005, it issued a $310 million bond to pay off debt, expand the casino and build an 11-story hotel tower.
Galt, who was a manager at the casino until shortly after his disenrollment in September 2006, said the casino's revenue is staggering -- even though it has been curbed by the economic downturn.
Before the recession, up to 15,000 people would walk through the doors every day, forking over about $1.5 million every 24 hours. Average monthly revenue was $12 million in 2007, Galt said.
"People don't understand how much money we made," he said. "Every six weeks, we had the equivalent of the city of Fresno visit the casino."
Most of that money has gone toward casino expansion and paying down debt, Galt said. The tribe also promised the Grizzlies $16 million to name Fresno's ballpark and spent millions more on police and fire protection in Madera County.
In December 2007 -- less than a year after the disenrollments -- each of the remaining members got a $7,000 stipend, courtesy of casino profits, former and current members said. Since then, members have received $300-per-month payouts.
That is a pittance compared to what some tiny gaming tribes pay members: up to $20,000 a month. Disenrolled Chukchansi members and other critics say the tribe is hoarding casino profits, waiting for the economy to recover and the tribe to shrink further before spreading the wealth among the fortunate few.
"There is only one reason you disenroll people -- you disenroll people for greed," said Livingston, the former casino CEO.
More members, more funds
The U.S. government has decided to let tribes decide for themselves who should be a member. But years of shifting government policies, diluted blood lines and lost records have made it difficult to determine who is Chukchansi and who isn't.
In an attempt to force Indians to assimilate into American society, the U.S. government "terminated" many California tribal reservations in the 1950s and 1960s -- including the Picayune Rancheria, home to the Chukchansi. Decades later, a lawsuit forced the government to rerecognize the tribe.
In 1988, the Chukchansi drafted a constitution and, like many newly recognized tribes at the time, sought out distant relatives scattered across the country. It didn't matter how much Chukchansi blood they had -- the tribe wanted them in.
Years later, tribal leaders would admit that the effort was at least partly motivated by money.
"We enrolled members over time because it 'served our interest,' " the tribal council wrote in a February 2005 newsletter, explaining why it was cutting back membership. "The greater our membership numbers, the more dollars we received from the BIA."
Livingston said the larger membership also helped legitimize the tribe in the eyes of investors -- making it easier for the tribe to secure a loan to build a casino.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs still provides the tribe with assistance -- about $260,000 this fiscal year -- on top of funding from other federal government agencies for housing subsidies and other welfare programs.
There is, however, no evidence that any of the federal funding has been used to build the casino or fund its operations.
Hearings process 'a joke'
By the late 1990s, the future casino was on everyone's mind. A Sacramento management company called Cascade Entertainment Group was trying to secure a deal with the tribe. But the tribal chairwoman at the time, Daisy Liedkie, believed the company was driving too hard a bargain.
Liedkie said that tribal leaders who supported the Cascade deal turned on her. She said that one day in June 1999, about 20 people showed up at the tribal office, yelled and spat at her, and told her to leave. Madera County sheriff's deputies who arrived at the scene described it in a report as "some sort of insurrection by Indian subjects."
According to Bureau of Indian Affairs records, the upheaval prompted the BIA to send the tribe a letter threatening to suspend federal recognition if it didn't "eliminate the influence of political factions."
Within months, Liedkie said, she and more than 200 relatives and supporters had been expelled from the tribe. The next year, California voters approved Proposition 1A, which allowed Las Vegas-style gambling on Indian land.
As construction was under way on the casino in early 2003, tribal leaders began discussions about "auditing" its membership. Reid, the tribal chairman, insists the timing was a coincidence.
He said that the tribe didn't have the resources to do a necessary audit until the casino was built.
By 2005, the disenrollment debate had reached a fever pitch.
There were screaming matches during hours-long tribal council meetings, say those who were in attendance. People would openly challenge committee members and council members, yelling, "You don't belong here!"
At one marathon meeting that lasted until midnight, some members in favor of disenrollments brought sleeping bags and threatened to stay until they got their way.
The new enrollment committee soon came up with a list of more than 500 people who should be expelled.
Disenrollment hearings began in May 2006 and lasted into early 2007. At first, the hearings lasted 45 minutes. But soon the tribal council only allowed 20-minute hearings, said Wass, who represented more than 100 members at the hearings.
She said the members often brought documents that recorded their Native American heritage. But most of the time, the tribal council didn't dispute that the disenrollees were of Chukchansi descent. Instead, they insisted the members had failed to meet other criteria, like applying for membership before an April 1990 cutoff date. But because membership records had been stolen a decade earlier, it was sometimes impossible to prove otherwise.
"The process was a joke," said Cory, the special-education teacher. "At the hearing, everything was timed. I had a written request to tape the hearing, but [the chairman] ordered me to take the recorder out of the room.
"I represented myself and my four children, but only one person could speak. That was the rule. If you had an attorney, only the attorney could speak. If you didn't show up to the hearing, they would disenroll you on the spot."
The tribal council members, meanwhile, were paid to run the approximately 30 hearings. At a July 8, 2006, meeting that was held without notice, the council members voted to give themselves $250 each for every disenrollment hearing, said Cory, who was at that meeting.
The tribe defended the hearings in a statement to Capitol Weekly, a Sacramento newspaper, in August 2007. The tribe said it took "the necessary time to ensure the process was accurate" and made sure that "every individual was given due process under the tribe's law."
But those who were disenrolled had no recourse. The Bureau of Indian Affairs says it tries to stay out of any membership arguments and the tribal council's decisions were final.
Galt also was disenrolled. He has century-old documents that indicate his ancestors received an allotment of land from the federal government. The tribe's constitution states that any Chukchansi who is a descendant of an allottee can apply to be a member at any time.
The tribal council conceded that Galt was Chukchansi, but said his ancestor had received a homestead allotment, which it said was different from other allotments, and therefore Galt should never have been enrolled in the tribe in the first place, according to a letter the tribe sent Galt.
A surreptitious recording of the hearing captures council member Harold Hammond Sr. at the end of the meeting bluntly telling Galt: "You're not native no more."
More disenrollments in the future?
When the dust settled, the tribe didn't look anything like it had only a few years earlier. In 2005, tribal officials told the BIA it had 1,234 members. Livingston said that at a meeting in June 2007, a council member announced that the tribe had 691 members.
Current and former members worry about what will happen next.
"I expect more disenrollments to follow," said Chapman, the retiree. "It may not be right away, but it will happen."
TWO VIEWS: New EPA chief's toughness, tact will strike fear in polluters...Wayne Madsen
WASHINGTON -- President Obama's selection of Carol Browner as the assistant to the president for energy and climate change bodes well for correcting the devastating environmental policies of the last eight years.
Browner served two terms as President Clinton's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the longest term that any EPA chief has served since the agency's creation by President Richard Nixon in 1970.
A longtime environmental activist, going back to the days when she worked for Ralph Nader's Citizen Action public advocacy group, Browner can be expected to be tough on polluters as she was as head of the EPA.
Moreover, Browner -- now dubbed the "climate change czarina" -- is a disciple of and former aide to then-Sen. Al Gore, now a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his tireless work to alert the world to the perils of global warming.
With her strong environmental advocacy background, Browner can be expected to be as tough as one can expect from a senior White House adviser.
She will team with the new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to formulate sensible policies that reverse the Bush administration's eight years of environmental foot-dragging. Jackson earned national plaudits as commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection.
Browner comes to her new post with a "tough as nails" attitude that will grab the attention of wayward industries that have profited from an absence of strong environmental regulation for most of this decade.
Undoubtedly, Browner will enjoy more collegiality in the area of international diplomacy because she knows and agrees with most of the leaders of Europe's Green Movement. With that background, she's exactly the right person to gain wide support for U.S. initiatives at the U.N. environmental summit in Copenhagen next December.
She knows full well that heavy-handedness and arrogance with newly emergent industrial nations like China and India will not further the aims of those who want to see real improvement on the global climate change front.
As the top coordinator between various federal agencies on global climate change issues, Browner will be in a position to succeed in her goal of doubling renewable solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy output. It's cause for celebration among avid environmentalists that neither nuclear energy nor the oxymoron of "clean coal" are in her environmental lexicon.
The new energy and environmental czarina also is in position to ensure that economic stimulus funds reach those firms in the growing "green collar" industry that can hire and train a new work force earning sustainable salaries -- a move that will reduce unemployment in every area of the nation. Browner has made no secret about the fact that she intends to use her new bully pulpit to do everything possible to jump-start America's lagging green technological base.
Browner also can use her White House muscle to ensure that the Democratic Senate ratifies the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions prior to the U.N. summit in Copenhagen. She knows that the United States cannot go into the summit in Denmark as a scofflaw from Kyoto.
A combination of toughness and tact should ensure that Browner's role as climate change czarina will grab the attention of domestic greenhouse gas-emitting industries while assuaging the concerns of major international greenhouse gas producing nations like China and India and calming the fears of nations like Tuvalu, Kiribati and Bangladesh that are the victims of sea-level rises from the melting of polar icecaps.
When it comes to the environment and global climate change, America has been asleep at the switch for the last eight years. Carol Browner is the perfect person to command rave reviews from the rest of the world by ringing the alarm bell that wakes America from its arrogant slumber.
Attempt to move Forest Service could spark turf war...LES BLUMENTHAL
WASHINGTON -- In what eventually could become a major bureaucratic turf war, there have been stirrings on Capitol Hill about moving the U.S. Forest Service from the Agriculture to the Interior Department.
For more than a century, the Forest Service, which manages the federal forests, has been part of the Agriculture Department, while the nation's three other public lands agencies - the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service - have been at Interior.
Together, the Forest Service and these other agencies manage more than 680 million acres of forests, rangelands, wetlands, pristine parks and untouched wilderness, mostly in the West.
Backers of the switch say it makes sense because the agencies face such similar problems as climate change, wildfires and the pressures of urbanization. Critics say the move wouldn't save much money, at least initially, and it could leave the Forest Service more vulnerable to political pressure.
"We believe there is a need to approach these things innovatively - to think outside the box," Robin Nazzaro, director of natural resources and environment for the Government Accountability Office, said in an interview. "This is one option. This is the beginning of the debate on how to position ourselves to meet these challenges."
Nazzaro was among those who testified last week before the House Appropriations Committee's interior subcommittee about moving the Forest Service to Interior. The committee controls the purse strings for the Forest Service, even though it is part of Agriculture, and the Interior Department.
During the hearing, subcommittee chairman Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said that "we regularly see inconsistencies" between how the Forest Service and the Interior Department handle public lands, adding that there was "room for more collaboration" to make land management more effective and efficient.
In a later interview, however, Dicks said he found the GAO report, which he had requested, inconclusive. Though not ruling the switch out entirely, Dicks said, "I came out of the hearing thinking it would be better to leave things as they are."
The issue isn't new. It has been explored five times in the past four decades, including during the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations. In several cases, actual legislation was drafted. The proposals never got off the ground, however, blocked by interest groups or Capitol Hill politics.
(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIOINAL TRIM)
Several of the proposals called for establishing a separate Department of Natural Resources, which would include the Forest Service, the Interior Department's three land agencies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the Commerce Department.
The Carter administration said such a combination could save $160 million over several years. The Nixon administration made similar proposals, including one to create a Department of Environment and Natural Resources that would include many of the functions now handled by the Environmental Protection Agency, which was established in 1970.
Among other things, the Reagan administration proposed streamlining operations by transferring almost 20 million acres of BLM lands to the Forest Service and almost 14 million acres of Forest Service land to the BLM.
"All these failed because of political decisions at the time or the environment at the time just changed," Nazzaro said.
The Interior Department was established in 1849 and given authority over the public lands acquired as the nation expanded westward. Then in 1905, Congress transferred control of what were then called the forest reserves to the Agriculture Department, where they were combined with the department's forestry research program into the Forest Service. Those pushing the creation of the new agency said the nation's forest and timber supply would be better managed by Agriculture Department officials.
There are 155 national forests, encompassing 193 million acres.
The impact on the public and the timber industry of moving the Forest Service to Interior is unclear, though campgrounds and trails in the national forests are well used and the federal forests, especially in the Northwest, used to be a major source of the nation's timber.
Mike Dombeck has seen the federal land management agencies from both sides. During the Clinton administration, Dombeck served as both chief of the Forest Service and as acting director of the BLM.
"If I were designing a new organization from scratch today ... I can think of no reason that we would have two agencies with nearly identical land stewardship missions under different Cabinet secretaries, different congressional committees' jurisdiction, reporting to different departments," Dombeck said.
The Forest Service is often seen as the odd agency out at the Agriculture Department, Dombeck said. The Forest Service and Interior have very different cultures but share a strong resistance to organization change, he said.
"While I can't conclude that moving the Forest Service to Interior should never be done, I'm skeptical the benefits would exceed costs at this time," he said.
Mark Rey, who oversaw the Forest Service as an undersecretary of agriculture under President George W. Bush, agreed. Rey said the agencies already have a unified command to fight wildfires, and questions about encroaching development on forest lands is a state or local zoning issue. The Forest Service and Interior's U.S. Geological Survey are cooperating on climate-change research, he noted.
If change is needed, Rey said, a new natural resources department should be formed involving all the land agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"In for a dime, in for a dollar," Rey said.
ON THE WEB
To view the Government Accountability Office report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09223.pdf
State by state statistics: http://www.wildlandfire.com/docs/2007/western-states-data-public-land.htm
The Department of Interior Web site: http://www.doi.gov
The U.S. Forest Service Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us
Grass-roots call for action on Delta
New group's first symposium draws nearly 300...Alex Breitler
LODI - This was their day.
Tired of attending agency meetings where they feel their voices are not heard, Delta farmers, anglers and environmentalists had their own symposium Saturday to seek solutions and get organized.
"It was a big call for action," said striped bass fisherman David Scatena of Stockton.
Scatena became the latest member of the grass-roots group Restore the Delta, which hosted Saturday's event. About 270 people attended, making it one of the largest meetings held purely for the people who live, work or play in the Delta.
No government officials dictating the agenda. None of the powerful water agencies pushing for a peripheral canal. Only a diverse cross-section of Delta interests, from farmers in their boots to water lawyers in their suits.
"Our goal is that each and every one of you becomes a Delta advocate," Restore the Delta organizer Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla told the crowd.
This wasn't just about fighting a canal, although there was plenty of opposition in the room to the state's plans to funnel freshwater around rather than through the Delta.
Local officials presented their view on a better solution: Water conservation, flood basins to recharge sagging groundwater aquifers, collection of rain water that runs off our homes and businesses, water recycling and desalination, strategies that can make distant regions of the state self-reliant, said Tom Zuckerman, a longtime Delta landowner and advocate.
The gloom and doom that clouds over the Delta these days is overstated, some of those in attendance said. The risk of an earthquake crumbling multiple levees and causing mass flooding is not so great as has been claimed, Delta engineer Chris Neudeck said.
But the greatest emphasis might have been on how to step up pressure on the state as a process that could lead to construction of a canal speeds along. U.S. representatives Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, and George Miller, D-Martinez, echoed calls for cohesiveness, even between groups that might not ordinarily see eye to eye.
"We need to protect this Delta, and we're going to do that by organizing ourselves," McNerney said.
State Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said she hopes this is the beginning of a strong effort to raise the profile of the Delta.
In a 2007 survey commissioned by the city of Stockton, nearly half of the city's residents only had a vague idea or no clue at all as to where the Delta is located. Its legal outer boundary runs north to south near El Dorado Street.
Saturday's symposium will be followed up by a written report outlining some goals, Barrigan-Parrilla said.
Three veterans of the water wars were honored Saturday as "Delta Advocates" by Restore the Delta:
• Former state Sen. Michael Machado, D-Linden, who made water a top legislative priority
• South Delta farmer Alex Hildebrand, who has long fought for better water quality
• Stockton environmentalist Bill Jennings, whose California Sportfishing Protection Alliance has sued over water exports and pollution
Capitol power plant dims clean energy hopes...DINA CAPPIELLO,The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- As Congress tries to clean up the nation's energy sources and cut gases blamed for global warming, it is struggling to do so in its own backyard.
The Capitol Power Plant, a 99-year-old facility that heats and cools the hallowed halls of Congress, still burns coal and accounts for one-third of the legislative branch's greenhouse gas emissions. For a decade, lawmakers have attempted to clean it up.
In recent years, Congress has reduced its energy consumption. The steam and chilled-water power plant has become more efficient. It now burns more natural gas and only 35 percent coal, compared with 49 percent in 2007.
But Congress is running out of options to make the plant fully green. Also, there are questions about whether it can afford to keep paying to use the extra natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.
The plant's story is one that is likely to play out across the United States as Congress looks to limit greenhouse gases and require more of the country's energy to come from wind, solar and other renewable sources.
The issues hampering the cleanup _ politics, cost and technological barriers _ could trip up similar efforts elsewhere. The U.S. counts on coal-fired power plants for about half of its electricity; the plants are also the biggest source of heat-trapping gases.
So if Congress cannot act locally, as the environmental slogan goes, how can it begin to think globally?
In 2007, the facility released 118,851 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Energy Department. That's a fraction of the amount released by the roughly 600 coal-fired power plants nationwide that produce electricity, and the emissions created at other plants from which Congress buys power.
"We are holding it up as a symbol for how we can and must do better," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. It is among 40 environmental organizations planning a protest Monday that is expected to draw about 2,500 people to the plant a few blocks south of the Capitol.
Among them will be James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first testified in 1988 about the perils of global warming. He has called for halting construction of new coal-fired power plants without technology to capture and store carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.
"They need to start by getting the coal out of Congress," Hansen said.
While carbon dioxide from the facility could be reduced 60 percent using carbon sequestration technology, the Energy Department in April 2008 ruled that out. The $112 million cost was too high. There is no place nearby to dispose of the gas and the extra coal burned to run the carbon-trapping equipment would increase other types of air pollution.
Recognizing this dead end, just last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wrote the Architect of the Capitol with another recycled idea: convert the plant entirely to natural gas.
While four times more expensive than coal, natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide.
Referring to the facility as a shadow hanging over efforts to make Congress more environmentally friendly, the leaders said the conversion would demonstrate Congress' willingness to deal with global warming, energy independence and the use of finite fossil fuels.
An effort in 2000 to rid the plant of coal and oil was blocked by two senators from coal-producing states. Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued at the time that the continued use of coal would save taxpayers money because it is cheaper than natural gas.
Last week Byrd seemed more willing to compromise, saying he would support looking at the natural gas option.
Converting the plant entirely to natural gas would require equipment upgrades at the facility that would cost between $6 million and $7 million, in addition to having to buy more natural gas. It would cost $139 per ton of carbon dioxide saved, or about $2 million a year just for the House's portion of heating and air conditioning.
Pelosi and Reid say the investment far outweighs the costs. But in the midst of an economic crisis, it is not clear if that would be money well spent.
"It doesn't make any difference what they do," said Bill Kovacs, vice president for the environment, technology & regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It makes a statement, but it is not going to change carbon dioxide concentrations at all anywhere in the world and coal will continue to be used somewhere else."
Coal-fired power plants elsewhere will have difficulty meeting new mandates if passed by lawmakers.
"The oldest and dirtiest ones will not compete well under that system," said Tidwell, who supports efforts to get the Capitol Power Plant off coal. "The people who own those power plants will have to make some choices."
On the Net:
Architect of the Capitol: http://www.aoc.gov/cc/
Leaders' letter: http://tinyurl.com/caeojd
Chesapeake Climate Action Network: http://www.chesapeakeclimate.org/