by Dan Bacher
California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird claims “Delta realities cry out for action and a new direction” in an opinion piece he wrote for the San Jose Mercury News on August 23 (http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_21384111/john-laird-delta-realities-cry-out-action-and).
However, Laird and Governor Jerry Brown have in fact continued and expanded some of the worst environmental policies of Arnold Schwarzenegger, policies that threaten the Delta, Central Valley salmon and other fish populations, and fishing communities throughout the state.
First, Laird and Brown are fast-tracking the peripheral tunnels plan to export more water to corporate agribusiness and southern California. This is the latest incarnation of the peripheral canal plan decisively rejected by California voters in 1982, hardly a “new direction” as Laird claims it is. No matter how much Laird tries to say that the Delta “conveyance” plan has “changed,” the plan is at its core a tired, old, uncreative Nineteenth Century solution to Twenty-First Century problems.
Laird claims the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) today “elevates biological restoration to a coequal goal along with water supply reliability — reliability that was the dominant goal of some previous proposals.” He also alleges that “science is guiding this effort.”
However, as environmental activist Jerry Cadagan notes, Laird’s people are saying something very different.
Karla Nemeth, program manager for the BDCP, stated in a July 23 AP story: “We decided to embrace scientific uncertainty regarding the facility’s operation, water flows, habitat restoration and the response of fish.” That hardly sounds like “science” guiding the effort.
Laird then claims, “Economics is also important, and as part of the environmental review, a detailed economic benefits study will be presented to provide a complete picture of fiscal impacts.”
However, Laird and Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral have refused to authorize an independent costs-benefit analysis of the project, as numerous Legislators and Delta advocates have requested.
In fact, Jerry Meral, in a Matier & Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 29, admitted, regarding the cost of the project, “We don’t have a good range yet.”
“We have a $19 billion estimate, but we only have about 10 percent of the project design done at this point,” Meral said. “It could go 30 percent up or down.
“Right now we are just dealing with preliminary estimates,” Meral said.
Second, Laird and Brown presided over record water exports and a massacre of millions of Sacramento splittail and other fish species in the Delta pumps in 2011. A record 8,986,089 splittail were “salvaged” in the pumps last year; the actual number of fish killed is estimated by scientists to be 5 to 10 times the “salvage” number or even higher. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/carnage-in-the-pumps/)
The Brown and Obama administrations surpassed even the Schwarzenegger and Bush administrations in the amount of water exported in the state and federal pumps and the number of splittail “salvaged,” in spite of outrage by fishermen, environmentalists and tribal leaders over the 2011 carnage. With their deplorable record in protecting fisheries to date, how can we possibly trust the state and federal governments to protect fish when the peripheral tunnels are built?
Will we expect to see a sudden conversion by the state and federal governments akin to that of Saul on the road to Damascus the moment the peripheral tunnel project is given final approval?
Third, Laird and the Governor have continued Schwarzenegger’s corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, a privately funded process that fails to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, seismic testing, military testing, wind and wave energy projects, pollution and other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
The Resources Legacy Fund Foundation and David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the primary funders of the MLPA Initiative, and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation fund the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) studies promoting the construction of the peripheral canal or tunnel.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force that created the alleged “marine protected areas” that went into effect in Southern California on January 1, 2012. Reheis-Boyd is a relentless advocate for new offshore oil drilling, the Keystone XL Pipeline, hydro fracking and the evisceration of California’s environmental laws. What type of marine protection is overseen by an oil industry lobbyist? (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2012/06/24/the-most-censored-environmental-story-of-2012)
It is clear that Laird and Brown, rather than “taking a new direction,” are in reality continuing and expanding Schwarzenegger administration policies that will only result in the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species rather than dealing with the real problems – increased water exports, pollution, and ocean industrialization – that imperiled fish populations face.