“Just get it done” – Expediency over extinction

Posted on | October 1, 2009 | 8 Comments

Steelhead Trout. Source: NOAA
THE US DEPARTMENT of Interior yesterday bowed to pressure from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other California legislators to submit key federal protections afforded to endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for review by the National Academy of Sciences.
The clear hope is that the academy will discredit opinions from federal scientists in the Department of Interior and US Chamber of Commerce that have led to cuts in water deliveries to Central Valley farmers.
Whether or not the National Academy ultimately contradicts conclusions of federal scientists used in enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, the San Francisco Chronicle today quotes Feinstein as demanding that the Endangered Species Act itself be waived in order to increase water deliveries to Central Valley farmers.
“Just get it done as fast as we can,” she said.


Map of the Bay Delta watershed. Source: NRDC

The Chronicle also reports today that Feinstein has plans for her own package of sweeping Delta legislation in the US Congress, effectively overriding the Obama administration’s previous stance that the California State legislature should produce its own package of water bills, including Bay-Delta management reforms.

This proved impossible when the legislature’s season closed in deadlock on September 11th.

Looming over last-ditch efforts to pass a package of water bills was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pledged to veto all state bills that did not contain provisions for more than $5bn worth of dam projects.

Left with a Schwarzenegger-enhanced impasse in the California legislature, the Obama administration yesterday announced formation of a Federal Bay-Delta Leadership Committee to be led by the Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

This marks a sharp turn-around in Obama administration policy, which had been to defend the biological opinions of scientists from within the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration that indicated protection was in order for fish such as the Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and green sturgeon.

What is at stake here is not just the survival of species but the health of entire ecosystems and the economies that depend on them, said Rod Mcinnis, southwest regional director for NOAA’s Fisheries Service when the opinion concerning the green sturgeon was published last June.

An Interior statement that followed as recently as two weeks ago underscored that reductions in water deliveries to Central Valley farmers were not primarily caused by fish protections but by drought, the reason for 75% of the cuts.

However, appearing on a broadcast by Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, Schwarzenegger continued to blame the federal government for protecting fish before farmers. For one of the better analyses of Hannity’s recent rally in the Central Valley, see Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

Feinstein’s announcement that she intends to author her own package of sweeping Delta legislation in the US Congress effectively overrides Interior’s pressure on Schwarzenegger to work with the California legislature on its own package of water bills. However, in reversing its position, Interior still “urged” Schwarzenegger call a special session of the California state legislature to resume negotiation on the water bills.

Feinstein is chair of the Interior appropriations committee.

For a full round-up of press reports of today’s events, go to Aquafornia.

For an earlier story on California’s assault on the Endangered Species Act, click here.

This post has been lightly edited since the original posting and links have been added.


8 Responses to ““Just get it done” – Expediency over extinction”

  1. David Zetland
    October 1st, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

    wow — so much for the 10th amendment…

  2. Eric Lindstrom
    October 1st, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

    Way too quick and way, way too dirty. Sort of suggests we are well into a Neo-Dark-Ages period. No chance, I suppose that the National Academy will simply tell the pols to go to Hell is there?

  3. EmilyGreen
    October 1st, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

    I agree. NAS might well back the Fish and Wildlife and NOAA biologists, which is why I think the real battle line is on the ESA. This could have incredibly far ranging consequences.

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  5. Tim in Albion
    October 9th, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    Dave, what’s the 10th Amendment to do with any of this? NOAA, USFWS, ESA, CVP – all Federal. Who pays the piper, calls the tune. Farmers have enjoyed nearly-free Federal water for decades, and now they want to howl about “government interference.” Ya dance with the Devil…

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