Lively radio on Monday in Fresno...Badlands Journal editorial board
Bill McEwen, Fresno Bee columnist, is starting a talk show on KYNO. His guest on Monday will be Lloyd G. Carter, San Joaquin Valley water activist.
Time: Noon, Monday, June 29, 2009
Location: Radio KYNO, 1300 AM, Fresno, or hear it live on the Internet at: http://1300kyno.com.
Topic: Water and the environment
They will come at the topic of the effects of drought and environmental law on the south Valley from different perspectives. McEwen's June 25 column on the alleged hypocrisy of environmentalists on the Hetch-Hetchy/Tuolumne River issue. If environmentalists sued on behalf of salmon on the San Joaquin River and in the Delta, why not on the Tuolumne and Hetch-Hetchy, whines McEwen. Closer to the issue as framed by Westlands, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Valley representatives Jim Costa, Devin Nunes and Dennis Cardoza, and others, is the issue of "drought-related unemployment in the south Valley. The California office of the Endangered Species Coalition prepared a brief fact sheet of comparative figures on the problem, circulated to a number of environmental activists, including Carter to defend the Endangered Species Act against the Westlands/Peripheral Canal propaganda machine at Salazar's Sunday town-hall meeting. The meeting will probably be livelier than a court hearing.
McEwen's column of June 25, 2009:
Bay Area water hypocrisy exposed...Bill McEwen
One of these days, a water-starved farmer will walk into federal court and demand that O'Shaughnessy Dam come down, finally restoring glacial Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural grandeur and releasing a natural flow into the Tuolumne River.
Such a lawsuit wouldn't get the farmer more water. But it would expose the hypocrisy of Bay Area environmentalists who depict San Joaquin Valley residents as ignorant hillbillies making a mess of the desert and the Delta with their irrigated farms.
Hetch Hetchy -- the twin to Yosemite Valley -- should have been restored decades ago, say many environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.
But the only way the dam falls is if a federal judge orders it. And no environmental group will sue. Why?
They say it's better handled with cooperation and education. My explanation is simpler: it's because the dam holds some of the best drinking water on earth -- granite-filtered water reserved mostly for the allegedly environmentally conscious folks of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities.
Amazing, isn't it?
Environmentalists sue to restore the Owens River and Mono Lake. Environmentalists sue to restore the San Joaquin River and bring back its salmon run.
But they won't unleash their lawyers on Hetch Hetchy, one of the world's great wonders, or demand that San Francisco surrender its drinking water so that the Tuolumne River can teem with salmon again.
Can I prove that environmental groups are picking other battles to avoid a backlash among their Bay Area supporters? No. But it sure looks that way.
Here in the Valley, east-side farmers are giving up, on average, 170,000 acre-feet of water each year for the reintroduction of salmon into the San Joaquin.
Shouldn't Bay Area residents forfeit a similar amount -- about half of Hetch Hetchy's storage capacity -- to recharge the Tuolumne, the San Joaquin and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with cold Yosemite water?
Shouldn't we enjoy Hetch Hetchy Valley, as it was before powerful San Francisco interests stole Tuolumne water rights -- and broke John Muir's heart -- in the early 1900s?
San Franciscans beg to differ. They claim that the dam has created a beautiful lake and Hetch Hetchy Valley was overrated -- its spectacular vistas mere figments of Muir's imagination. Two of the loudest opponents against restoring Hetch Hetchy are Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Three years of drought and the dramatic degradation of the Delta are hog-tying west-side farmers. They are trying to survive with a fraction of their usual water deliveries.
What are San Franciscans giving up? Not their precious Hetch Hetchy tap water.
Let's give the San Francisco greenies a dose of aggressive environmentalism. Let's sue to restore Hetch Hetchy.
The California office of the Endangered Species Coalition prepared for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's water fact-finding meeting in Fresno, scheduled for 2:30 p.m at the CSU Fresno Satellite Student Union, a brief fact sheet. Carter will have it in mind when he meets with McEwen on Monday.
Drought and the San Joaquin Valley
Is it really “fish vs. people” as the Governor and Representative Nunes say? To listen to all the rhetoric these days you’d think that people are suffering only because a federal judge and the federal wildlife agencies decided to protect fish. Representative Nunes and our Governor are
calling it a regulatory drought and families are suffering as a result. Articles in the L.A. Times and many other papers in California have picked up the story without really checking on data available from the state Employment Development Department records. Here is a link that shows
the data pretty clearly: http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?pageid=133
However, the raw data doesn’t tell the story unless you dig into it. So, here are some of the facts from the data that brings some clarity to the issue. Make no mistake; unemployment is a problem
in Mendota and Fresno County. However, it is a problem in almost all of California’s agricultural counties, and Fresno is by far not the worst. If you take the numbers as given for all counties in California for May 2009, and then look at the 9 previous years as well it is quite revealing.
For Mendota (the town given as the worst and where the governor has visited twice to rile against the Endangered Species Act and his claim of regulation caused unemployment) it shows 38.8% unemployment for May 2009.
For Mendota, the 9 year previous average is 28.1%. Mendota has led Fresno County in unemployment for the past 10 years...
Fresno County ... shows 15.4% unemployment for May 2009, with a 9 year average of 10.5%.
Of the 18 most agriculture dependent counties in California the average unemployment rate is 15.6% for May 2009. Seven other counties have worse unemployment than Fresno (Imperial, Sutter, Alpine, Colusa, Merced, Yuba and Stanislaus), with the highest in Imperial County in the Southern California desert at 26.8%.
Six of the seven with greater unemployment than Fresno are not heavily affected by the Central Valley Project water cutbacks, and many are able to compensate via groundwater and use cutbacks.
Lastly, when looking at the 2008 unemployment figures and averages, Fresno county has the eighth highest increase in unemployment (2008 to May 2009), meaning seven other counties have a greater increase in unemployment over the last year than Fresno ( Imperial, Colusa, Merced, Sutter, Yuba, Stanislaus, Tulare). Six of these have limited impact from Central Valley Project reductions or are not affected at all by them.
What this data clearly shows is that unemployment is chronic in Mendota (28.1% average), worsened by the drought, as with all other agriculture dependent counties The owners of the big farms there are certainly not sharing their profits well with the labor community that serves them.
There is much to be done to improve their plight, and it should not include disaster relief from the tax payers (as requested by the Governor and our Senators).
DWR director Lester Snow testified before Congress nearly two months ago essentially saying if there was no court order to protect fish, there would only be a 5% increase in CVP water to the San Joaquin Valley. This shortage is drought caused, not regulation caused.
An interesting side note regarding subsidies to these farms. In 1978 the taxpayer subsidy to the Federal San Luis Unit of the CVP (which supplies water to the west side San Joaquin) was estimated at $770 million or about $1,540.00 per acre (United States Bureau of Reclamation figures).
Today that value would be about $5,227.00 per acre using the Cost of Living Calculator for 2007. Another interesting fact is that people in Madera, Merced and Fresno Counties received about $132 million in farm subsidies in 2006. People in Trinity County, where the water for the Western San Joaquin Valley comes from, received $585.00 ( United States Department of Agriculture figures on the Environmental Working Group’s Website Feb 16, 2009).
Who really gets left holding the proverbial bag? Of course it is the federal taxpayer and the public trust. It is time agri-business took more responsibility for the problem and started to work for a solution, not for the drought but to help the farm workers they sometimes employ.
This isn’t “fish vs. people”, it is “fish and people.” Both are suffering in this is the third consecutive low water year.#
It's Not Fish v. Jobs After All
Big Water's Big Lie Unravels...DAN BACHER...6-11-09
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Central Valley agribusiness interests have since January issued a constant stream of press releases and staged frequent photo opportunities claiming that "drought," compounded by pumping restrictions to protect Delta smelt and other fish species, will "devastate" San Joaquin Valley growers and farmworkers this year.
"This march is about opening our eyes to the reality of California's water crisis - and the reality is that farmers do not have a reliable water supply they can count on, farm workers fear losing their jobs because crops are not being planted, and in towns across the Central Valley, unemployment is skyrocketing," claimed Governor Schwarzenegger when he addressed the "March for Water" at San Luis Reservoir, organized by San Joaquin Valley agribusiness in April. "I am determined to getting a comprehensive solution done once and for all that will update our water infrastructure, increase our water storage and restore our Delta."
Schwarzenegger, Westlands Water District and other San Joaquin Valley water contractors are cynically using the false claims of "drought" and the "devastating" impact of Delta pumping restrictions to campaign for a peripheral canal and more dams, an enormously expensive project that would only worsen the collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt and other fish populations.
Many reporters in the corporate media have repeated these big lies, based on false and misleading hydrological and economic data, with little or no contrary data to combat their purveyors. However, Spreck Rosekrans, an Economic Analyst at Environmental Defense, has effectively exposed this disinformation in a short article posted on his blog on June 8, http://blogs.edf.org/waterfront/2009/06/08/water-supply-improvements-in-the-san-joaquin-valley/.
The "doom and gloom" and "fish versus jobs" scenario that has deluged the media over the past several months constrasts dramatically with the actual hydrological and economic data. In fact, "information compiled by the California Department of Water Resources reveals that in 2009 water supply in most parts of the valley will be in excess of 80% of average," according to Rosecrans.
"Central Valley Project deliveries to Westlands Water District, for example, were forecast to be zero as recently as March," said Rosecrans. "Westlands now projects they expect to use 86% of average annual supplies this year. Their total supply is a combination of deliveries from the Delta, water banked last year, groundwater pumping and purchases."
The data, compiled last month by the Department of Water Resources and based on a series of interviews with staff from each of the districts, was attached to a letter from DWR Director Lester Snow to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein on May 15.
"The information paints a very different picture for agriculture this year than we have seen reported this spring," emphasized Rosecrans. "The water shortages are much lower than previously reported. This year's supplies do, of course, rely on levels of groundwater pumping that would not be possible every year. Still, one can only conclude that the water supply situation is not as dire as previously reported and that San Joaquin Valley farms will still be able to grow food for our kitchen tables this year."
Most recently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, reacting to the release of the federal government's biological opinion that requires more protections for Sacramento River winter run and spring run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales (orcas), falsely portrayed the peer-reviewed plan as favoring "fish over people." Schwarzenegger completely ignored the thousands and thousands of commercial and recreational fishing businesses and coastal communities that have been devastated by fishery collapses caused by massive increases in water exports in recent years and the operation of Central Valley dams.
“This federal biological opinion puts fish above the needs of millions of Californians and the health and security of the world’s eighth largest economy," claimed Schwarzenegger. "The piling on of one federal court decision after another in a species-by-species approach is killing our economy and undermining the integrity of the Endangered Species Act."
Fortunately, the claim by corporate agribusiness and the Governor's office that the "drought" and "pumping" restrictions are "devastating" California agribusiness is now being exposed for the "Big Lie" that it is.
For more information, go to: http://www.counterpunch.org/bacher05052009.html or http://www.calsport.org.
Schwarzenegger's Big Lie About Fish vs. Jobs
Fish Tales...DAN BACHER...5-5-09
"The Big Lie" is a propaganda technique developed by Josef Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, and Adolph Hitler in the 1920s prior to their taking power in Germany in 1933.
"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it," said Goebbels, in explaining the technique that he helped perfect. "The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie."
In his autobiography Mein Kampf, Hitler defined the "Big Lie" as a lie so colossal that no one would believe that anybody "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously."
Since the Nazis came to power in 1933, many governments, corporations, and corrupt individuals throughout the world have used this tried and proven propaganda technique to seize power and to brainwash the population into believing unsubstantiated "facts" to further their goals.
In California, the greatest practitioners of the "Big Lie" are Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lester Snow, the Director of the Department of Water Resources, the state water contractors and their accomplices who have spread outrageous claims about the "need" for a peripheral canal and more dams in order to increase water exports to unsustainable subsidized agribusiness. Their most recent use of the classic "Big Lie" propaganda technique is to blame "fish" and "drought" for farm "unemployment" to further their campaign to build a peripheral canal and more dams.
As part of the preparation for the State Water Board hearing on the DWR/Bureau petition, Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, researched the claims made by DWR and various water agencies and politicians that the drought had a huge impact upon farm labor unemployment. He found that the contention that the "drought" has been devastating for farmworkers is a classic case of "The Big Lie," with no basis whatsoever in fact.
For example, Schwarzenegger portrayed a false crisis of farmworker unemployment "skyrocketing," due to the supposed favoring of "fish" over "jobs" by state and federal agencies, when he addressed the recent "March for Water" organized by corporate agribusiness without the support of the United Farmworkers Union or farmworker advocacy groups.
This is similar to "The Big Lie" spouted by Schwarzenegger in the summer of 2007- that "no dams had been built" in California during a 30-year period - until myself and others exposed his lies and he finally stopped telling them.
"This march is about opening our eyes to the reality of California's water crisis - and the reality is that farmers do not have a reliable water supply they can count on, farm workers fear losing their jobs because crops are not being planted, and in towns across the Central Valley, unemployment is skyrocketing," claimed Governor Schwarzenegger. "I am determined to getting a comprehensive solution done once and for all that will update our water infrastructure, increase our water storage and restore our Delta."
Likewise, actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez claimed, "We cannot ask a tree to wait a week, Governor," trying to convey a gloom and doom scenario for west side San Joaquin Valley agribusiness unless exports into the Delta pumps are increased. "The tree has to have water. Our fields are turning into kindling wood."
The Corporate Agribusiness Big Lie was repeated as scriptural truth by the corporate media, with little if any critical analysis of actual economic data as Jennings has done.
"Water agencies and politicians have been relentlessly claiming that the drought and environmental restrictions have had a devastating impact on farm worker employment," said Jennings. "These claims have been widely reported in numerous newspapers and broadcast media articles. Unfortunately, they are substantially lies; facilitated by those seeking to relax environmental protection and facilitate a peripheral canal."
Contrary to the claims that farmworker jobs have decreased, the fact is that farm labor employment in the San Joaquin Valley has increased since the "drought" began three years ago, according to Jennings.
"In fact, agricultural employment in the San Joaquin Valley has generally outpaced all other economic sectors," said Jennings. "The rise in unemployment is recession-based and focused primarily on the construction, manufacturing and leisure and hospitality sectors."
Jennings reviewed files from the State of California Employment Development Department (EDD) Labor Market Information Division between March 2008 and March 2009. These files revealed that there was no basis for claims that farm labor "unemployment" was caused by the "drought" and court-ordered restrictions on pumping.
Here is the startling data that the Governor, DWR and the state water contractors didn't want you to know:
• Fresno County total farm employment increased by 1,100
while nonfarm employment decreased by 8,900.
• Kern County total farm employment increased by 1,300
while nonfarm employment decreased by 2,500.
• Kings County total farm employment increased by 100 while
nonfarm employment decreased by 700.
• Tulare County total farm employment increased by 1,200
while nonfarm employment decreased by 3,200.
• Merced County total farm employment decreased by only
200 while nonfarm employment decreased by 2,100.
• Stanislaus County total farm employment decreased by
only 300 while nonfarm employment decreased by 4,900.
The same is true between 2006 and 2008, according to Jennings. Total farm employment increased by 2,600 in Fresno County, 4,000 in Kern County, 3,400 in Tulare County, 100 in Merced County, and 500 in Stanislaus County. Only in Kings County, the smallest of all valley agricultural counties, did agricultural employment drop - and then only by 600.
"The trends are the same, whether you're comparing annual farm and nonfarm employment between 2000 and 2008 or historical monthly employment data (2000-current)," said Jennings. "The significant rise in unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley over the last few years is clearly not due to a loss of farm labor jobs, with the possible exception of King County where farm labor unemployment averaged over 10% between 2000 and 2008 Kings County has, by far, the smallest farm and nonfarm employment of any county in the San Joaquin Valley."
Jennings noted that much has been written about the exceptionally high unemployment in the town of Mendota, as evidence of impacts from the "water crisis." However, he emphasized that "unemployment in Mendota has always been high."
"It exceeded 32% in 2000 and was the highest of the state's 494 towns," added Jennings. "Per capita income was below $8,000, which was the lowest level in the state. Unemployment is a serious problem in areas like Mendota and begs to be addressed. However, it is a structural long-existing problem not primarily caused by reductions in water deliveries."
The unemployment numbers may change during the course of the coming year but, for now, "they shout lies" to the claims by agencies and water districts, Jennings concluded.
On the other hand, state and federal water policies that favor subsidized corporate agribusiness have helped to devastate Central Valley Chinook salmon, striped bass, sturgeon and other fish populations that the recreational and commercial fishing businesses depend on. Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and juvenile striped bass have declined to record low population levels in recent years, due to massive increases in water exports out of the California Delta, toxic chemicals and invasive species.
"The Big Lie" that the "drought" and court-ordered restrictions of pumping to protect delta smelt and endangered winter-run Chinook salmon have led to massive unemployment in the farmworker community is a cynical attempt by Corporate Agribusiness and their allies, Schwarzenegger and Snow, to pit fishermen against farmworkers, and Delta farmworkers, who are threatened by the peripheral canal, against San Joaquin Valley farmworkers.
As Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, so eloquently said, "Pitting the needs of one farm worker community against another is wrong. Environmental justice advocates, who address environmental impacts on the poor and people of color, do not advocate for the benefit of one environmental justice community against the needs of other environmental justice communities.
"Solving the economic challenges of farm worker communities in the Central Valley and the Delta must be done in a compassionate and moral way so as to recognize the dignity of the work that farm workers perform in the present, while providing them with new opportunities to become productive members of a diverse middle class California economy," she concluded. "In addition, numerous workers in the fishing and recreation industries are workers of color who must also be protected by environmental justice advocacy."
Jennings has exposed Corporate Agribusiness and Schwarzenegger for the "Big Liars" they are, but in the classic tradition of "The Big Lie," they will probably come back with an even more outrageous lie to replace the one they are spinning in the mainstream media now.
Obama's Used Green Team
Meet the Retreads...JEFFREY ST. CLAIR...6-26-28-09
Of all of Barack Obama’s airy platitudes about change none were more vaporous than his platitudes about the environment and within that category Obama has had little at all to say about matters concerning public lands and endangered species. He is, it seems, letting his bureaucratic appointments do his talking for him. So now, five months into his administration, Obama’s policy on natural resources is beginning to take shape. It is a disturbingly familiar shape, almost sinister.
It all started with the man in the hat, Ken Salazar, Obama’s odd pick to head the Department of Interior. Odd because Salazar was largely detested in his own state, Colorado, by environmentalists for his repellent coziness with oil barons, the big ranchers and the water hogs. Odd because Salazar was close friends with the disgraced Alberto Gonzalez, the torturer’s consigliere. Odd because Salazar backed many of the Bush administration’s most rapacious assaults on the environment and environmental laws. Odder still because Salazar, in his new position as guardian of endangered species, had as a senator repeatedly advocated the weakening of the Endangered Species Act.
Salazar never hid his noxious positions behind a green mantle. Obama certainly knew what he was buying. And the president could have made a much different and refreshing choice by picking Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat, a Hispanic, a westerner and a true environmentalist who had helped to expose the cauldron of corruption inside the Bush Interior Department. Yes, Obama could have picked a western environmentalist; instead he tapped a prototypical western politician with deep ties to the water, oil, timber, ranching and mining industries. So the choice was deliberate and it presaged the deflating policies that are now beginning to stream out of his office, from siding with Sarah Palin against the polar bear to greenlighting dozens of Bush-era mountaintop removal mining operations across Appalachia. (As CounterPunch pointed out last fall, Obama and Palin have long since established symbiotic harmony on God’s Pipeline, the proposed $30 billion natural gas pipeline that, if constructed, will slice across the tundra and boreal forests from Prudhoe Bay through Canada to Chicago.)
Salazar wasted no time in turning the Interior Department office into a hive of his homeboys. This group of lawyers and former colleagues have already earned the nickname the Colorado Mafia, Version Three. It’s Version Three because Colorado Mafia Version One belonged to James Watt and his Loot-the-West zealots from the Mountain States Legal Fund. The Version Two update came in the form of Gale Norton and her own band of fanatics, some of whom remain embedded in the Department’s HQ, just down the hall from Salazar’s office.
Beyond a perverse obsession with Stetson hats, Salazar and Watt share some eerie resemblances. For starters, they look alike. There’s a certain fleshy smugness to their facial features. Who knows if Salazar shares Watt’s apocalyptic eschatology (Why save nature, Watt once quipped, when the end of the world is nigh.), but both men are arrogant, my-way-or-the-highway types. Watt’s insolent demeanor put him to the right even of his patron Ronald Reagan and ultimately proved his downfall. Salazar may well meet the same fate—if Obama, knock-on-wood, doesn’t nominate him for the next Supreme Court vacancy first. Most troubling, however, is the fact that both Watt and Salazar hold similar views on the purpose of the public estate, treating the national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands not as ecosystems but as living warehouses for the manufacture of stuff: lumber, paper, wedding rings, meat, energy.
With this stark profile in mind, it probably comes as no big shock that the man Salazar nominated to head the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with protecting native wildlife and enforcing the Endangered Species Act, has viewed those responsibilities with indifference if not hostility. For the past twelve years, Sam Hamilton, whose nomination to head the agency is now pending before congress, has run the Southeast Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service, a swath of the country that has the dubious distinction of driving more species of wildlife to the brink of extinction than any other.
From Florida to Louisiana, the encroaching threats on native wildlife are manifest and relentless: chemical pollution, oil drilling, coastal development, clearcutting, wetland destruction and a political animus toward environmental laws (and environmentalists). And Sam Hamilton was not one to stand up against this grim state of affairs.
A detailed examination of Hamilton’s tenure by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reveals his bleak record. During the period from 2004 through 2006, Hamilton’s office performed 5,974 consultations on development projects (clearcuts, oil wells, golf courses, roads, housing developments and the like) in endangered species habitat. But Hamilton gave the green light to all of these projects, except one. By contrast, during the same period the Rocky Mountain Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service officially consulted on 586 planned projects and issued 100 objections or so-called jeopardy opinions. Hamilton has by far the weakest record of any of his colleagues on endangered species protection.
There’s plenty of evidence to show that Hamilton routinely placed political considerations ahead of enforcing the wildlife protection laws. For example, in the agency’s Vero Beach, Florida office Fish and Wildlife Service biologists wrote a joint letter in 2005 complaining that their supervisors had ordered them not to object to any project in endangered species habitat—no matter how ruinous.
Take the case of the highly endangered Florida panther. One of Hamilton’s top lieutenants in Florida has been quoted as telling his subordinates that the big cat was a “zoo species” doomed to extinction and that to halt any developments projects in the panther’s habitat would be a waste of time and political capital.
“Under Sam Hamilton, the Endangered Species Act has become a dead letter,” says PEER’s Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the White House announcement on Hamilton touted his “innovative conservation” work. “Apparently, the word ‘no’ is not part of ‘innovative’ in Mr. Hamilton’s lexicon. To end the cycle of Endangered Species Act lawsuits, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs a director who is willing to follow the law and actually implement the Act. Hamilton’s record suggests that he will extend the policies of Bush era rather than bring needed change.”
Now this man has the fate of the jaguar, grizzly and northern spotted owl in his compromised hands. Feel the chill?
Over at the Agriculture Department Obama made a similarly cynical pick when he chose former Iowa governor Tom Vilsak to head the agency that oversees the national forests. Vilsak resides to the right of Salazar and not just in the sitting arrangement at Cabinet meetings. He is a post-Harken Iowa Democrat, which means he’s essentially a Republican who believes in evolution six days a week. (He leaves such Midwestern heresies at the door on Sundays.) Think Earl Butz—minus the racist sense of humor (as far as we know).
Vilsak is a creature of industrial agriculture, a brusque advocate for the corporate titans that have laid waste the farmbelt: Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. As administrations come and go, these companies only tighten their stranglehold, poisoning the prairies, spreading their clones and frankencrops, sucking up the Oglalla aquifer, scalping topsoil and driving the small farmers under. It could have been different. Obama might have opted for change by selecting Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, food historian Michael Pollan or Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. Instead he opted for the old guard, a man with a test tube in one hand and Stihl chainsaw in the other.
Through a quirk of bureaucratic categorization, the Department of Agriculture is also in charge of the national forests. At 190 million acres, the national forests constitute the largest block of public lands and serve as the principal reservoir of biotic diversity and wilderness on the continent. They have also been under a near constant state of siege since the Reagan era: from clearcuts, mining operations, ORV morons, ski resorts and cattle and sheep grazing.
Since 1910, when public outrage erupted after President William Taft fired Gifford Pinchot for speaking out against the corrupt policies of Interior Secretary Richard Ballinger, the chief of the Forest Service had been treated as a civil service employee and, much like the director of the FBI and CIA, was considered immune from changes in presidential administrations. This all changed when Bill Clinton imperiously dismissed Dale Robertson as chief in 1994 and replaced him with Jack Ward Thomas, the former wildlife biologist who drafted Clinton’s plan to resume logging in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. Thomas’ tenure at the agency proved disastrous for the environment. In eight years of Clinton time, the Forest Service cut six times as much timber as the agency did under the Reagan and Bush I administrations combined. The pace of logging set by Thomas continued unabated during the Bush the Younger’s administration.
So now Vilsak has given the boot to Gail Kimbell, Bush’s compliant chief, and replaced her with a 32-year veteran of the agency named Tom Tidwell. Those were 32 of the darkest years in the Forest Service's long history, years darkened by a perpetual blizzard of sawdust. You will search Google in vain for any evidence that during the forest-banging years of the Bush administration, when Tidwell served as Regional Forester for the Northern Rockies, this man ever once stood up to Kimbell or her puppetmaster Mark Rey, who went from being the timber industry’s top lobbyist to Bush’s Undersecretary of Agriculture in charge of the national forests. (Point of interest: Rey, once known as the Skeletor of the Timber Industry for the hundreds of thousands of acres of clearcuts on his rapsheet, has now been retained as a fixer by WildLaw, an environmental law firm in Alabama -- retained without ever having issued a single mea culpa for his career as a top rank ecocider. You just can’t make this stuff up, anymore.) No, Tidwell was no whistleblower. He was, in fact, a facilitator of forest destruction, eagerly implementing the Kimbell-Rey agenda to push clearcuts, mines, oil wells and roads into the heart of the big wild of Montana and Idaho.
Despite this dismal resumé, Tidwell’s appointment received near unanimous plaudits, from timber companies, ORV user groups, mining firms and, yes, the Wilderness Society. Here’s the assessment of Cliff Roady director the Montana Forest Products Association, a timber industry lobby outfit: “His appointment keeps things on a fairly steady course. He reported to Gail Kimbell, and they worked together really well. He’s somebody we’d look forward to working with.”
And here, singing harmony, are the tweets of Bob Eckey, a spokesman for the Wilderness Society, which some seasoned observers of environmental politics consider to be yet another timber industry lobby group: “Tidwell understands the American public’s vision for a national forest has been changing.”
During his tenure in Montana, Tidwell specialized in the art of coercive collaboration, a social manipulation technique that involves getting environmental groups to endorse destructive projects they would normally litigate to stop. Yet, when copiously lubricated with the magic words “collaboration” or “climate change” most environmentalists can be enticed to swallow even the most ghastly of clearcuts in the most ecologically sensitive sites, such as the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana to the fast-dwindling ponderosa pine forests of Oregon's Blue Mountains.
One of Tidwell’s highest priorities will, it seems, be turn the national forests into industrial biomass farms, all in the name of green energy. Under this destructive scheme, forests, young and old alike, will be clearcut, not for lumber, but as fuel to be burned in biomass power generators. Already officials in the big timber states of Oregon and Washington are crowing that they will soon be able to become the “Saudi Arabia” of biomass production. Did they run this past Smokey the Bear?
Of course, Smokey, that global icon of wildfire suppression, and Tidwell will, no doubt, find common ground on another ecological dubious project: thinning and post-fire salvage logging. We’ve reached the point where old-fashioned timber sales are a thing of the past. Now every logging operation will an ecological justification — specious though they all certainly turn out to be.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, one of the few green outfits to consistently stand up against Democratic Party-sponsored depredations on the environment, sued Tidwell at least 20 times during his time as regional forester in Missoula. There’s no record of Tidwell being sued even once by Boise-Cascade, Plum Creek Timber or the Noranda Gold Mining Company.
Yet by and large, the mainstream environmental movement has muzzled itself while the Obama administration stocks the Interior Department with corporate lawyers, extraction-minded bureaucrats and Clinton-era retreads. This strategy of a self-imposed gag order will only serve to enable Salazar and Vilsak to pursue even more rapacious schemes without any fear of accountability.
The pattern of political conditioning has been honed to perfection. Every few weeks the Obama administration will drop a few meaningless crumbs--such as the reinstitution of the Clinton Roadless Area rule—toward the enviro establishment, which will greedily gobble them up one after the other until, like Hansel and Gretel with groupthink, they find themselves hopelessly lost in a vast maze of Obama-sanctioned clearcuts. After that, they won’t even get a crumb.
On the environment, the transition between Bush and Obama has been disturbingly smooth when it should have been decisively abrupt.
Where will the administration meet its first roadblock? Who will erect it?
Delphia: Show Patterson a little respect...Claude Delphia
Patterson is celebrating its 100th birthday. The community was founded, so the story goes, when T.W. Patterson came to Will Cox, who was farming the Patterson family's Rancho Del Puerto Land Grant, and said he wanted the grain harvested so he could start laying out the streets for a new town.
Within months the new town was under construction, and by the first part of 1910, buildings were going up and people were settling.
The first two buildings were the Center Building, now the Historical Society museum, and the Hotel Del Puerto across the street. Thus the town was conceived, born and prospered, with businesses and homes expanding out from its center circle.
It was incorporated as a city in December 1919.
Patterson is just one part of the West Side that makes it different. (By the way, it is West Side, two words.)
We do think we are different — and the rest of the county east of the San Joaquin River has always let us know just how different they think we are.
Being newer than most communities in the county, Patterson has felt this difference acutely.
Every time we see a list of events in The Modesto Bee, we note that Patterson isn't included. The latest was a list of Memorial Day events, and again none were listed for Patterson. At near 21,000 residents and one of the county's fastest growing cities, we just don't stand out.
Wait, I'll take that back. We are noticed when the county government decides to put a dump over here. Then there was the tire burning plant and fire fiasco. Oh, and lest I forget, now the supervisors want to destroy 3,200 extra acres of prime farm land so Modesto, Ceres and Turlock residents can commute to the former Crows Landing air base for jobs the other cities don't seem to be able to provide.
Despite all the efforts to use the West Side and especially Patterson as a dumping ground for projects that no one wants elsewhere, Patterson will move forward, celebrating its birthday with a hometown celebration July 4. And a Labor Day History Weekend will be a homecoming of past and present residents, including thousands of Patterson High School graduates and many old-time families.
For more information on the centennials, log on to www.patterson100.org. The celebration is sponsored by the city of Patterson and local organizations.
Plan to participate as we get ready for the next 100 years.
Battle over water heats up in San Joaquin Valley...TRACIE CONE, Associated Press Writer
FRESNO, Calif. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is coming here to ground zero in the state's fight over dwindling water resources Sunday as agriculture and environmental interests have become increasingly polarized.
In Congress this week, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, blamed farmers' woes on "government action to protect a three-inch minnow." And Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, countered coastal fishermen are suffering their third collapse of the salmon industry in four years because "science has been put aside for politics."
"It's do or die," said farmer Shawn Coburn, who said he lost a new $750,000 well this week because emergency groundwater pumping is depleting aquifers.
Salazar is holding a town hall meeting at California State University, Fresno to assess the impacts of a three-year drought and federal water delivery cutbacks from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect threatened fish.
His visit comes 10 days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the Obama Administration to declare Fresno County a disaster area, and five days after state agriculture officials held hearings in Mendota, where idled farm workers contribute to a 40 percent unemployment rate.
Salazar is the last word in a federal department that oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, which controls California's system of aqueducts and canals delivering water to 28 million users, including the San Joaquin Valley's most prolific farms.
In Fresno County, the No. 1 agriculture county in the U.S., farmers have idled 262,000 acres because they do not have enough water. Statewide the figure is 450,000 acres unplanted.
Leading up to the meeting, both sides have been jockeying to make their points understood.
Farmers argue that cutting water deliveries to farms in the San Joaquin Valley oversimplifies the problems threatening salmon and smelt in the west's largest freshwater estuary.
Farmers and some members of the valley's Congressional delegation have asked the federal government to grant exceptions to the Endangered Species Act to allow more water for crops.
They say they are bearing full responsibility for environmental problems also caused by wastewater discharges from cities and by invasive species that eat native fish. "If we're 30 percent of the problem, cut us by 30 percent," Coburn says.
Environmental groups stress the importance of native smelt and salmon to the ecosystem and coastal economies.
"I don't know why I would run to the federal government and say 'bail me out' when I made a bad decision" to plant in an arid area, said Mark Rockwell of the Endangered Species Coalition.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis estimate that as of May, water shortages in the San Joaquin Valley have cost an estimated 35,000 jobs and $830 million in farm revenue.
The water shortages have revealed shortcomings in the state's 1930s-vintage water system for a population of 18 million people. Now there are 38 million people in the state, and at least 35 percent of the available water has been set aside permanently for smelt, the salmon run and wetland habitat.
Potential long-term fixes, such as desalination plants, recycling programs and a peripheral canal to ship water from the Sacramento River around the Delta, will be years away.
Farmers say they cannot wait. "It's not a farmer versus fisherman issue," Coburn says. "It should be a coalition to find out what the real problem is."
Sage grouse endangered decision delayed 'til 2010...MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press Writer
BILLINGS, Mont. Federal officials are again delaying a decision on whether to list sage grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered, leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected.
The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to Arizona and California to Colorado, living alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines.
Its population has been in decline for decades, but how many remain is unknown.
For the Obama administration, the decision on sage grouse could force an uncomfortable choice. On one side are environmental groups that supported him as a candidate and want the grouse protected. On the other is a renewable energy industry much touted by the president but lately emerging as a potential threat to the bird's habitat.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is well aware of the significance of this decision, because of its potential impact on a broad area and many activities within that broad area," said Michael Bean, a senior adviser to Assistant Secretary of Interior Tom Strickland.
Bean was formerly an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, where he worked in part on sage grouse issues.
A decision on the bird already had been delayed twice, following a federal judge's 2007 order that the government give sage grouse new consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Government biologists said they could not meet the latest deadline in May because they needed more time to gather scientific data. The decision is now set for next February under an agreement recently reached between Justice Department lawyers and environmentalists.
If the government says a threatened or endangered listing is warranted, it would be at least another year before it would take effect.
"We're stuck in this spot where we're really worried about sage grouse and we think bad things are happening and it needs to be listed. But it's also important that more science is coming in," said Laird Lucas, an attorney for the Western Watersheds Project, which sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over the issue in 2006.
Under the Bush administration, the agency had declined to list the bird as threatened or endangered. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise overturned that decision, saying in part that it was tainted by political pressure from former Assistant Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald.
MacDonald resigned in 2007 following an investigation that found she had interfered in multiple endangered species decisions.
A variety of factors are blamed in the sage grouse's decline - from the removal of sage brush by cattle ranchers to drought and West Nile virus outbreaks that hit grouse populations directly.
Sage grouse advocates in recent years singled out oil and gas drilling for criticism because energy companies were pushing deep into some of the bird's last strongholds. Those include the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, the area surrounding the Roan Plateau in Colorado and the Green River Basin in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
Now, with wind energy on the upswing, so is the potential for the loss of key sage grouse habitat. Roads and power lines built to support wind farms can fragment land where sage grouse live and breed, pushing them off the land.
Fish and Wildlife sage grouse biologist Pat Deibert said the delay in the agency's decision will not immediately imperil the bird. The most recent estimate indicated there were between 100,000 to 500,000 sage grouse across its 11 state range.
In the meanwhile, Idaho, Wyoming and other states are expected to continue bolstering their own sage grouse conservation plans, in hopes of avoiding a threatened or endangered listing.
David Hensley, counsel to Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, said the delay offers a chance to prove those measures are working.
"We're trying to make the best case we can to the federal government that the species doesn't warrant federal protection in Idaho," Hensley said.
An attorney for the agriculture industry, Brandon Middleton with the Pacific Legal Foundation, said the delay leaves a cloud of uncertainty over landowners whose actions would be restricted by a listing. He added, however, that the status quo was preferable to new protections for the bird that bring more industry regulations.
Feds decline to delist Klamath sucker fish, again...JEFF BARNARD, AP Environmental Writer
GRANTS PASS, Ore. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the Lost River and shortnosed suckers - two fish at the heart of water battles in the Klamath Basin - still deserve to be on the endangered species list.
The agency announced Friday that a new petition filed this year offered no new information to change a decision that it made in 2004 and reaffirmed in 2007 and 2008.
The suckers live primarily in Upper Klamath Lake, which is the main reservoir of a federal irrigation project that has had to shut off water to farms in times of drought to maintain habitat for the fish.
The service concluded that restoration projects have improved habitat in Upper Klamath Lake, especially at the mouth of the Williamson River, where The Nature Conservancy has brought together farmers, tribes and conservation groups to restore marshes essential for young suckers to survive.
Most of the lake's marshes were drained for farmland.
However, both species are still having trouble increasing their populations, the service concluded.
The petition was filed by water rights attorney James Buchal of Portland.
"The Service's determination shows that the political imperative to pillage the economy of the Klamath Basin drives the Service's decisions, not good science, since the Service rejected the opinions of its own scientists and its own status review that called for downlisting at least one species," he wrote in an e-mail.
"In fact, both species are in no appreciable danger of extinction, and the lakes and ponds of the Klamath Basin are filled with literally millions of listed suckers."
AP News Break: EPA says Monsanto mine violates law...JOHN MILLER - Associated Press Writer...6-26-09
BOISE, Idaho Federal regulators said Thursday an Idaho mine that Monsanto Co. depends on to make its Roundup weed killer has violated federal and state water quality laws almost since it opened, sending selenium and other heavy metals into the region's waterways.
The Environmental Protection Agency said problems at the St. Louis-based company's South Rasmussen Mine near the Idaho-Wyoming border were first documented in April 2002. That's just 15 months after the mine won Bureau of Land Management approval, according to documents released by the EPA to The Associated Press.
More recently, the mine has been unable to stop discharges of heavy metal-laden water from a waste dump, despite BLM conclusions nearly a decade ago that precautions wouldn't "allow selenium or other contaminants to migrate from the lease."
Monsanto takes phosphate ore from the mine and turns it into elemental phosphorous, a key Roundup ingredient. Toxic selenium and other heavy metals are also exposed during open pit mining and dumped in waste rock piles, where they can concentrate and be carried away by runoff or natural springs.
Disclosure of South Rasmussen's problems comes at a sensitive time for Monsanto: It's seeking federal approval for a new mine nearby, Blackfoot Bridge, to supply the Roundup component once Rasmussen is played out in 2011. But environmentalists contend the company's assurances that cutting-edge measures will keep naturally occurring selenium from spreading remind them of earlier promises long since broken.
In 2007, the EPA ordered Monsanto to stop releasing selenium-tainted water from South Rasmussen's Horseshoe Dump. Though the company has tried to remedy the problem, it's still violating the federal Clean Water Act, federal officials said.
"The measures they have implemented aren't working," said Eva DeMaria, an EPA enforcement official in Seattle. Monsanto "is aware of our concerns. They are trying to address it."
Asked if EPA plans further action, DeMaria declined comment. "It's under investigation," she said.
In the 1990s, sheep and horses died from selenium poisoning related to mining elsewhere in southeastern Idaho's rich phosphate belt. At least 17 phosphate mines here are now under federal Superfund authority.
Just this May, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality added Sheep Creek, a Blackfoot River tributary being polluted by South Rasmussen, to its list of waterways that don't meet state standards due to selenium contamination.
State scientists now say at least 15 streams in southeastern Idaho exceed selenium standards, up from six in 2002. Monsanto must satisfy the concerns of federal regulators - and eventually judges, in the event of lawsuits - that operations like Blackfoot Bridge won't exacerbate pollution.
"You're going to have to have assurances that there's not going to be an increase," said Greg Mladenka, a DEQ water quality scientist in Pocatello.
Monsanto lobbyist Trent Clark in Soda Springs, Idaho, said the company has resolved issues raised by two EPA violation notices.
In the latest, from September 2007, EPA inspectors found water containing "very high levels of selenium" flowing from the mine's Horseshoe Dump even in dry weather, "unlawful under the Clean Water Act," the agency said.
Despite Monsanto's efforts, the problems have continued, EPA officials said. Significant concentrations of selenium, cadmium, nickel and zinc continue to be measured downstream.
Monsanto is committed to resolving the issue, Clark said.
"The permit requirements were that Monsanto would leave no selenium problems when we're done mining," he said. "We have not finished our mining in that area, and our commitment is, we will be addressing these issues."
And, he said, Blackfoot Bridge's pollution-control measures will be much improved from South Rasmussen.
"It's a completely different process," Clark said.
Phosphate mined in southeastern Idaho is key to his company's stable of "Roundup Ready" seeds for everything from corn to cotton and sugar beets. The herbicide kills weeds; Monsanto's genetically altered plants survive.
This week, Monsanto reported its fiscal third-quarter profit fell 14 percent and it disclosed plans to cut 900 jobs, after competition from generic herbicides dented Roundup sales.
It's asked southeastern Idaho residents to support its Blackfoot Bridge proposal, urging them to send letters to BLM managers now preparing a draft environmental impact statement, due for release in July. Monsanto employs 700 in the region, with a payroll and benefits of nearly $30 million.
In January 2001, BLM officials who approved South Rasmussen wrote that Monsanto's mine wasn't likely to contaminate surrounding waterways.
"The South Rasmussen Mine site has no perennial streams and limited intermittent drainages that might serve as conduits to selenium transport," BLM officials wrote in their decision. "Monsanto has committed to implement operational practices and best management practices to minimize and control selenium generation."
Asked what went wrong, Bill Stout, a BLM geologist in Pocatello, said problems sometimes occur despite the best intentions of his agency and mining companies.
South Rasmussen, Stout said, was the last new Idaho phosphate mine where only a less-stringent environmental analysis was required; after the livestock were killed in the late-1990s by selenium poisoning, a more rigorous analysis is now mandatory.
"There's never any guarantee," Stout said. "But we do the appropriate analysis, to try and incorporate the newest and best mitigation measures."
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which is fighting phosphate mining expansion, said it's reserving judgment on Monsanto's Blackfoot Bridge project until after the BLM analysis is released. The coalition's Idaho Falls director, Marv Hoyt, said he's skeptical of Monsanto's promises.
"This is the not the first time we've been told a phosphate mining company has all the answers," he said.
California coastal herring fishery to close...Matt Weiser
The commercial herring fishery on the California coast will be closed for the first time in history in response to historically low population numbers.
The state Fish and Game Commission took emergency action Thursday to close the fishery, which is now under way and would normally continue until November.
The closure is expected to take effect in about 10 days, said Fish and Game Deputy Director Sonke Mastrup.
The commercial herring fishery inside San Francisco Bay, which occurs during winter, is also likely to be closed when the commission meets in September.
Environmental groups and the fishing industry both supported the closure, saying urgent action is needed.
Herring are a vital link in the bay and coastal food chain because they are prey for birds, mammals and larger fish.
"It's clear that the population is in extremely grave condition," said Santi Roberts, California project manager for the environmental group Oceana.
Fish and Game reported earlier this year that the bay herring population is at its lowest in 30 years – after a third straight year of declines.
It's not clear what has depressed the population. But the species has declined historically during drought.
Herring migrate from the ocean into the freshwater mixing zone of San Francisco Bay where they require low-salinity conditions to spawn.
This year, the herring population spawned near Point San Pablo, the farthest into the bay they have reached since 1976.
Early evidence also suggests pollution from the Cosco Busan oil spill in November 2007 may have harmed spawning that year, depressing the population that remains today.
"It's kind of like a perfect storm of issues, and everyone has looked at the circumstances and agreed we need to do something out of the ordinary to deal with it," said Mastrup.
A representative of the herring industry told the commission Thursday that the industry is not unanimous, but a majority supports the season closures.
California herring are a small fishery, but one of the last commercial species in San Francisco Bay.
The small fish are caught primarily for export to Japan. The state estimates direct economic impact from the closure at less than $1 million.
Numerous other bay and ocean fish species also are depressed, including salmon, smelt, sturgeon and bass.
It's unknown if the declines are related.
Commercial salmon fishing in California already has been closed for the second year in a row.
State rejects protecting pika under Endangered Species Act...Matt Weiser
State officials Wednesday rejected a petition to protect the American pika under the state Endangered Species Act.
The pika, a fist-sized relative of the rabbit, lives in high-elevation boulder fields in the Sierra Nevada and is sensitive to warm weather. The Center for Biological Diversity asked the California Fish and Game Commission to protect the species, citing evidence the pika is declining as its habitat shrinks due to climate change.
Shaye Wolf, biologist at the environmental group, offered new studies documenting pika declines at Bodie State Historic Park and Yosemite National Park, with climate change the likely cause.
The commission found the evidence inadequate.
Wolf said listing could protect pika groups from cattle grazing and road building.
The pika would have become the first species in the lower 48 states to gain protection because of climate change.
Hazardous freight moved by rail...The Associated Press
AMOUNT OF CARGO: Around 1.7 million carloads of hazardous materials are transported each year on the 140,000-mile U.S. rail system. Trains are the primary means of moving the potentially deadly cargo around the country.
TYPES OF MATERIAL: Tankers often carry chlorine, which is widely used in purifying water, and anhydrous ammonia - used in fertilizers. Highly flammable ethanol is also increasingly common. Trains also haul radioactive substances, though that's less common.
ACCIDENT RATES: In 2008, there were 21 train accidents where some material was released; that's down around 80 percent since 1980, when there were 118. From 1994 to 2006, hazardous materials released in rail accidents killed a combined 14 people, nine of those in 2005.
BIGGEST DANGERS: Since they're widely used and can vaporize so quickly, chlorine and anhydrous ammonia are considered among the biggest risks. Thousands of people could die if damaged chlorine tankers released a poisonous cloud over a city.
REGULATIONS: A push to mandate that railroads reroute trains carrying particularly dangerous cargo around big cities began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But a much-debated rerouting rule, which some railroads opposed, was only implemented this year.
Existing-home prices up for 3rd straight month...Jim Wasserman
Median sales prices for existing California homes climbed another 4.2 percent in May, marking a third straight month of rising prices, according to new statistics released by the California Association of Realtors.
The association called May's rise the largest for the month since it began keeping records in 1979.
In Sacramento County, median sales prices rose 8.1 percent from April. Only Orange and Napa counties were higher, CAR said.
The association reported a $180,940 median price in Sacramento County, up from $167,340 in April. Statewide, the median sales price climbed to $267,570 in May from $256,700 in April. The median is the point where half sell for more and half for less.
CAR officials attributed rising prices to a dwindling number of the cheapest bank repos and improved sales in the higher-end market.
Editorial: South county plan takes shape...6-26-09
Sixteen years after its gestation began, the South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan is about to be born, or at least unveiled in public.
While it still faces months of scrutiny, the coming exposure is an important step toward giving south Sacramento County's endangered species the protections already established in much of the rest of the state and nation.
Habitat conservation plans, or HCPs, have their origin in a 1982 amendment to the Endangered Species Act. They were created to preserve the habitats of endangered species by requiring private firms developing or logging those terrains to minimize the impact of their projects so that the species can continue to survive. HCPs also restore habitat that's been degraded.
Writing the plans requires the creation of curious coalitions. Developers are pivotal, providing the fees that finance most of the project in return for a streamlined environmental permitting process. They have to join with environmentalists, landowners, local governments, and state and federal regulators in developing plans that everyone can live with.
Partly because of these competing interests, it's hardly surprising that the HCP process frequently takes the better part of a decade, although the south Sacramento experience may have set some kind of record for length, in part because of difficulties finding financing.
Even now, it faces additional months of public comment and government reaction. The target completion date is early 2011. That's when the Sacramento County Water Agency opens the spigot on its new Freeport project, which, by increasing the region's water availability, will almost certainly spur development and heighten pressure on the endangered species.
If the south Sacramento HCP meets that deadline, it will join hundreds of HCPs that have already been established around the country – including two in the Sacramento area. The Natomas Basin Conservancy manages habitat for 22 species. The San Joaquin County Multi-Species HCP protects 97. Other HCPs are in the planning stage. Yuba and Sutter counties are creating a plan together. Placer is also working on an HCP.
The concentration in the capital region isn't coincidental. California has the bulk of the nation's large-scale HCPs. This isn't just because of its size but also its extraordinary biological diversity and the impact of nonstop development.
The suburban sprawl of Sacramento County south of Highway 50 may not be many people's idea of an environmental cornucopia. But its 341,000 acres inherited the rich biological legacy of the Central Valley. And enough of that legacy has survived in the south county to put 40 plants and animals on its HCP.
Does the fact that the HCP is well on the way to being created guarantee the survival of these species? Not necessarily. Many such plans have failed to safeguard the species they were created to protect. The reasons range from funding shortfalls to inadequate scientific analyses to a lack of public input.
Experts point out that the science surrounding the monitoring of HCPs still has significant uncertainties. That makes it difficult to accurately estimate the cost of several decades of oversight.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to developers, environmentalists, landowners and governments finding a formula they can all live with. They've already done it hundreds of times around the nation and state. There's no reason why they can't come together again in south Sacramento. As a developer playing a key role in the south Sacramento HCP said: "This is a deal that needs to happen."
Valley lawmakers fail to block fish-saving measure...(12:58 p.m.)...-6-26-09
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — For the second time, members of the San Joaquin Valley congressional delegation have failed to gain support for an amendment to block federal rules setting aside water for endangered fish.
The lawmakers are working to amend an Interior Department funding bill as Secretary Ken Salazar prepares for a meeting in Fresno Sunday to discuss the impact of water shortages on the region's farm economy.
The representatives have been trying to block the federal biological opinions that reserve more water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for salmon and smelt.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, says the House have "chosen fish over working families."
Fishermen argue that keeping the water in the delta is essential to preserve their livelihoods.
A climate change for Tracy growth...Eric Firpo
The threat of global warming is going to change how Tracy grows in the future.
It’s too early to say what those changes will look like exactly, and what global warming will ultimately mean for development.
But it’s not too early to state that Tracy and other cities are coming under intense pressure to move away “from ‘business as usual’ and toward a low-carbon future,” as Attorney General Edmund G. Brown said in a state document describing how cities must aim to cut greenhouse gases at the very earliest stages of planning for growth.
Brown’s office, in fact, recently made an example of Stockton, threatening last year to join a Sierra Club lawsuit against the city over changes to its general plan, changes that state officials believed veered from new laws that mandate big cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
Brown and others in his office agreed with the Sierra Club that Stockton’s proposed changes to its general plan would have failed to adequately reduce carbon emissions. The city settled with the state’s justice department in September 2008.
Now, as Tracy tries to change its own general plan, it faces demands from the Center for Biological Diversity, which this month filed 92 pages of comments from attorney Jonathan Evans.
Evans lists dozens and dozens of shortcomings with changes Tracy wants to make to its general plan, which aims to lay the groundwork for growth over 10 years instead of 30 and shrink the amount of land that might be developed in the future.
But it still leaves thousands of acres slated for sprawling growth that the center argues falls far short of new requirements to cut greenhouse gases, save water and energy, and shrink commuter miles, to name a few.
Among many suggestions, the center urges the city to embrace “smart growth,” building up instead of out.
Tracy and other cities may look to Stockton’s settlement agreement with Brown to see what might be acceptable.
Stockton had to come up with a “climate action plan” that forces the city to monitor greenhouse gas emissions and set a target for cuts.
Since the settlement, Stockton has set an interim target to reduce its emissions 28 percent by 2020, roughly the same as the state’s 29 percent target.
A “climate action plan” advisory committee has met once a month since January, said Barbara Berlin, deputy director for community development and planning in Stockton.
The city also must find a way to have people drive less, including commuters, and come up with green building techniques for the Stockton City Council to adopt, Berlin said.
Stockton is also required to come up with ideas about how to retrofit city buildings to lessen their carbon footprint and to find and plug holes in the city’s public transit system. That’s in addition to balancing sprawl and “infill” development.
Some requirements must be finished by an October deadline that Stockton will almost certainly ask to push back, Berlin said.
And Stockton must make the changes at a time when the city faces a $45 million fiscal hole because of a gaping budget deficit.
“Tough stuff,” said Berlin, whose last day on the job is Tuesday because she was laid off. “Much of what we are required to do is in our general plan, without the timelines. That’s the difficulty.”
Tracy is still trying to figure out how it will respond to comments by the center, said senior planner Victoria Lombardo.
But for a while now, the city has seen greenhouse-cutting laws and regulations coming, and several months ago talked about teaming up with the state’s department of conservation and a company called Town Green.
Tracy could be a sort of testing ground for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and it could get money from the state for doing so.
The Tracy City Council didn’t jump at the chance when plans were presented last year, but that was before Stockton’s settlement with the state and the ominous comments by the center.
“What that might do is accelerate the approach we’re moving on,” said Andrew Malik, the head of the city’s planning and engineering department.
Bank failure list tops 45
The FDIC says banks in Georgia, Minnesota and California were shuttered by state regulators...Ben Rooney
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Local banks in Georgia, Minnesota and California were closed Friday by state regulators, bringing the total number of failed banks this year to 45, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
The financial crisis has taken a heavy toll on small banks across the nation as losses in the housing market mount and unemployment dents household wealth. Analysts expect the trend to continue even as larger banks stabilize and the overall economy begins to recover.
Community Bank of West Georgia, which operated one branch in Villa Rica and another in Kennesaw, had total assets of $199.4 million and total deposits of $182.5 million, according to the FDIC.
The failed bank had roughly $1.1 million in deposits that exceeded the FDIC's $250,000 insurance limit for individual accounts. However, this amount is expected to change as the agency obtains more information from uninsured customers, the FDIC said.
The FDIC will mail checks to insured depositors of the failed bank on Monday morning. Direct deposits from the federal government, such as Social Security and Veterans' payments, will be transferred to United Community Bank of Blairsville, Ga.
Georgia regulators also shuttered the four branches of Neighborhood Community Bank, which is based in Newnan.
The FDIC said CharterBank of West Point will assume all of the failed bank's $191.3 million deposits and the majority of its $221.6 million assets.
So far this year, nine banks in Georgia have failed.
In Minnesota, Horizon Bank of Pine City was closed and will be taken over by Stearns Bank, NA of St. Cloud. It was the first bank to fail in the Gopher State this year.
The failed bank, which operated two locations, had total assets of $87.6 million and total deposits of about $69.4 million. Stearns Bank paid a premium for all of Horizon Bank's deposits and agreed to acquire $84.4 million of its assets. The remaining assets will be sold by the FDIC later.
Meanwhile, the sole branch of Irvine, Calif.-based MetroPacific Bank was closed Friday and Sunwest Bank, of Tustin, Calif., agreed to assume all of its non-brokered deposits.
MetroPacific had total deposits of approximately $73 million. Sunwest Bank will purchase nearly all of the failed bank's $80 million worth of assets, the FDIC said.
The FDIC said it would pay about $6 million directly to brokers for deposits held in MetroPacific brokered accounts.
Later Friday, the FDIC said Mirae Bank of Los Angeles was closed. The bank's five offices will reopen Monday as branches of Wilshire State Bank. Mirae Bank had total assets of $456 million and total deposits of approximately $362 million.
Wilshire State Bank will buy about $449 million of the failed bank's assets. The FDIC will hold the remaining assets to dispose of later.
California has had six banks fail so far this year.
The FDIC said it entered a loss-share agreement with the acquiring banks for a portion of the failed banks' assets. The agreement is intended to maximize returns on the assets and minimize disruptions for loan customers, the FDIC said.
The total cost of Friday's bank failures to the FDIC is $264.2 million, bringing the total for this year to $11.94 billion. That compares with $17.6 billion in all of 2008.
The number of bank failures so far this year has already exceeded last year's total of 25, with an average of 7 failures per month.
Over the next 5 years, the FDIC expects roughly $70 billion in losses due to the failures of insured institutions.
The FDIC, which is funded primarily by fees paid by banks, insures individual deposits up to $250,000. The amount was increased from $100,000 late last year in response to concerns about the stability of the nation's banks.