October 15, 2009
Endangering People to Protect FishBy Janet Levy
California, the nation's largest producer of fruits, nuts, vegetables, livestock and dairy products, ranks fifth in the world as a supplier of food and agricultural commodities. Cash receipts totaled more than $36.6 billion in 2007. By comparison, Coca Cola's 2008 revenue was $32 billion.
The state provides more than half of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables using more than 25% of California's landmass for agricultural production. The Central Valley accounts for more than half of that area. A paragon of conservation and modern irrigation technology, California agriculture - comprised of many small and family-owned and operated farms - is almost completely dependent on irrigation for its water needs.
Yet, this vibrant industry and major food supplier to the nation and the world faces threats from recent, accelerated efforts by Left wing politicians, government agencies, and extremist environmental groups who seek to limit the Central Valley farmland water supply. Using claims of questionable veracity and arguing for protection of endangered species, they are, in truth, part of a carefully orchestrated attempt to control the nation's food supply. If they succeed, our economy, civil liberties, the American way of life and national security would be dramatically weakened.
History of Water Reductions
Water in the Central Valley shifted from farming toward fish in 1992, when U.S. Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez), a close associate and advisor to the current speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, co-authored the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA). Coincidentally, two of Miller's former chiefs of staff, John Lawrence and Dan Beard, now serve in Nancy Pelosi's office.
The CVPIA reduced water for Central Valley farming from 3.5 million acre-feet to 2 million acre-feet annually, a 43% reduction and allocated it for wildlife habitats. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) now had authority to control the water supply by diverting water from farmers to fish and wildlife habitats. As a result, Central Valley farmers got less water at higher prices. Using the Endangered Species Act to buttress and justify its actions, FWS grossly expanded federal control of California resources, unilaterally deciding who got how much water in the state. FWS studies and decisions were made without any independent oversight and verification from the scientific community at large.
Further water reductions to Central Valley farmers came from routine, FWS biological surveys of fish in the Delta that identified several species as threatened or endangered. In 2005, FWS identification of the Delta Smelt as not in jeopardy prompted a lawsuit by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a powerful radical environmental group with an annual budget of $88 million. NRDC advocates the reduction of California farmland and the permanent diversion of water from agriculture.
Despite FWS statements that the Delta Smelt was adequately protected, the NRDC sued for a revised biological opinion confirming that the smelt was endangered and that irrigation pumps were responsible. Under judicial order, FWS was forced to redo the biological opinion and institute pumping restrictions in the Delta. Although far more compelling reasons exist for the reduction in number of the Delta Smelt - predatory, non-native species in the Delta from sports fishing and foreign ships; storm drain discharge; dumping of toxic wastes; more favorable water temperatures and flow for fish elsewhere - the judge followed the findings of the new biological opinion and ruled in favor of shutting down the pumps. Ironically, the Delta Smelt population had been significantly larger over the past four decades at a time when much higher pumping levels prevailed.
The NRDC is currently suing on behalf of other Delta species, including the Chinook salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and killer whale. Further pumping reductions could result from future court rulings. If all endangered species judgments were implemented, estimates are that the Central Valley would receive an annual allotment of only 1 to 1.2 million acre-feet of water, a third of pre-CVPIA levels.
History and Impact of the Endangered Species Act
The most wide-ranging environmental law in the United States, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was instituted in 1973 to "protect imperiled species from extinction as a consequence of economic growth and development and inadequate conservation."
It has provided the foundation for federal government intrusion in the Central Valley. No other government mission overrules the ESA's objective of protecting endangered species. It can even close military bases and training facilities. The law is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
ESA listings of endangered species are "based solely on the best scientific and commercial data available." A 1982 ESA amendment went so far as to block economic considerations from being taken into account when designating a threatened or endangered species. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued a regulation limiting the protective status of critical habitat, but, a series of court orders in the late 1990s and early 2000s, invalidated this provision. The FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service were forced to designate several hundred areas as critical habitats, essentially giving the ESA a mandate to place a designated plant or animal species above human needs.
The effects of the Endangered Species Act are far-reaching. The legislation has handed the federal government a vehicle to control private, state and local property. The ESA enables the U.S. government to prohibit property owners from using their own land with no reimbursement provided for its disuse and reduced value. Instead, the government's overriding responsibility is to protect a species, while the landowner is saddled with unproductive property subject to customary taxation. Furthermore, the ESA does not specify a time frame or plan for completion of species recovery. Average completion time is approximately six years. ESA violations carry steep fines in excess of $50,000 and imprisonment of up to one year. Rewards are issued to individuals who report violators.
Challenges to the ESA
Theoretically, three allowable challenges to the Endangered Species Act exist - the biological challenge, the species challenge and an override by the Endangered Species Committee. But none of these challenges have met with much success.
The scientific method and evidence used by the FWS to determine species eligibility for listing may be disputed. However, the standard for listings requires use of the "best available science" and scientists can refuse to release supporting scientific data. The ESA publishes scientific conclusions, but holds the position that the data is the researcher's private property and should not be made public. FWS sampling is conducted at the same location every year despite changes in water levels and fish migratory patterns. Independent researchers have conducted their own samplings and contested ESA rulings, but their results are not generally taken into consideration by the courts which defer to the FWS position and rarely overturn rulings.
The ESA allows classification of species into dubious sub-species based on geographic location and seasonal factors. Alleged sub-species might share DNA with a particular species, but if they exist in a different bend of a river or during a different season, they may be classified as distinct sub-species. Thus, a species may be plentiful across the country or in a particular region but may be declared endangered if its numbers are reduced in a specific location or its fall or spring population is reduced. By expanding the list of sub-species, the federal government has been able to increase its control over land use. Challenges to sub-species classifications have not been successful, as environmentalists argue that interbreeding cannot take place across regions and distinct time periods.
Also known as the "God Squad" due to the gravitas of their decisions for the natural world, the seven-member, Cabinet-level ESC committee has the authority to exempt a species from listing based on stringent requirements. With five votes required for exemption and the ESC convening only six times since 1978, only one species has been exempted.
In response to the catastrophic consequences of the ESA in the Central Valley, legal challenges have been filed against several biological listings used to restrict water flow.
The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a public interest legal organization, has sued federal regulators on behalf of farmers for failing to assess the economic impact of pumping cutbacks. Recently, a U.S. District judge ruled that the federal government failed to conduct an adequate environmental analysis of the status of the Delta smelt and did not account for the economic effect of the environmental ruling on humans. A hearing is set for December. The PLF is also seeking to overturn a biological opinion that would further restrict water to the Central Valley to protect the steelhead, salmon, killer whales and sturgeon.
Local water agencies have tried to legally stop the federal government from enforcing the restrictive smelt management plan by filing lawsuits to undo the latest round of water cutbacks to the region. Water agency representatives are trying to stop enactment of FWS biological opinions and ensure that decisions are based on the best available science. According to their research, standards for scientific accuracy have not been maintained and findings have been contradictory and unverifiable.
California Congressmen and a U.S. Senator have proposed several legislative solutions for the looming water shut off. Congressman George Radanovich (R-CA) proposed the Drought Alleviation Act (H.R. 856) which supports development of a fish hatchery to propagate alleged endangered species while the pumps are turned on. Local farmers have even offered to pay for the hatcheries. Congressional Democrats have blocked a hearing on this bill, while environmentalists insist that a hatchery would not produce "natural" fish because of an altered habitat.
An effort to force a vote on the "Turn on the Pumps Act" (H.R. 3105) put forth by Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) was defeated by House Democrats. Not a single California Democrat voted for this legislation that would alleviate the suffering of Central Valley constituents.
Another solution proposed by Congressman Nunes, H.R. 996, calls for erecting temporary barriers to keep smelt away from the pumps while water transfers occur. In September, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) presented an amendment to defund biological opinions for one-year until all of the science is reviewed. California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer both opposed the amendment.
"What started out as a local water problem in California is quickly developing into a food problem for the nation," DeMint said. "If we don't address the problem now, not only will thousands of people remain out of work in California, but everyone in the country will pay higher food prices."
Impact on Farmers and Farming Communities
With precipitation at 95% of normal levels over the last three years and reservoirs at 80% capacity, the pump shutoffs have created a man-made drought, sending 619,000 acre-feet of water into the ocean. As a result, 500,000 acres of farmland were taken out of production in 2009 alone and those still farming are forced to grow crops requiring less water.
As a result, Central Valley farming is becoming less diversified by necessity as farmers struggle to grow crops requiring less water and still obtain good profit margins. Reductions in farmed acres have caused declines in cotton production and steep drops in spring lettuce, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Many fruit trees and vines, which require up to eight years investment before a profitable yield can be realized, have been removed or are barely kept alive. Local farmers find it more difficult to compete with foreign producers who have fewer regulations and no water restrictions.
The overwhelming majority of farmers have invested in water efficiency technology for years. They have integrated drip irrigation efficiencies into their farming practices and have engaged in laser leveling to reduce water runoff. Groundwater is used to supplement water allocations from the Delta.
Still, with some farms receiving only 10% of their previous water allocation, the human toll has been grave. Many in the highly skilled labor force that operate computer-based machinery and irrigation systems have been laid off. Unemployment in some communities is as high as 40%, bankruptcies abound and many residents wait all day in food lines to feed their starving families.
Role of Nancy Pelosi
In the Central Valley farmland water rationing, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has played a pivotal role. Although she circumvented ESA requirements for two endangered species on one of her investment properties in San Martin, California, and subverted environmentalists who objected to developing San Francisco's Presidio by writing legislation to privatize the property and offer them low-cost leases, Pelosi has severely restricted water for farming in the Central Valley.
The first major water reduction to the Central Valley, the CVPIA, was authored by Pelosi cronies in 1992 as stated above. At the same time, she welcomed former U.S.S.R. President and agronomist Mikhail Gorbachev and the American branch of his Gorbachev Foundation as her first tenant at the Presidio. With the willing assistance of Pelosi and her close associate Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), Gorbachev was able to implement a plan to convert U.S. military bases for civilian use as centers of "global sustainability" and move into the Presidio offices. There, Gorbachev established a series of nongovernmental organizations to further his agenda to conduct research on global political and environmental issues.
The ties of Pelosi and Pelosi associates to a former Communist Party leader and advocate of a "New World Order," which endeavors to destroy the free market and capitalism and bring about global governance, is suspect at a minimum. The U.S. economy is intricately interconnected with government. Change could occur through increases in public ownership of property and in government control, plus wealth redistribution, all of which are being affected now by water restrictions.
Limiting food production is an ideal way to undermine a nation's food supply and usher in public control of a nation's wealth. Food can then be sold at "fair" prices set by the government according to standardized health and environmental standards. Healthy free market competition that encourages product diversity and innovation is thus replaced by a government system of equitable distribution. That restrictive water policies ensuring greater control of property usage and the food supply coincided with the launching of the Gorbachev Foundation's American presence is cause for grave concern.
For nearly 20 years, California's water availability has been precariously tied to decisions made by bureaucrats and politicians using the power of the Endangered Species Act. The effects of the far-reaching ESA could ultimately lead to the destruction of one of the most fertile valleys in the world, the reduction of the nation's food supply and greater dependence on foreign food sources that don't meet high U.S. food standards. The use of this overriding legislation that mandates federal control of our nation's land and water is representative of the overall trend in this country of increased government intrusion into the lives of its citizens. That a statutory decree exists that can override human suffering in the service of preserving animal habitats is a serious indictment of our government's commitment to preserve liberty and the American way of life.