Soft on fish

Posted on | February 15, 2010 | 3 Comments

On this the advent of the Year of the Tiger, it is striking in “The week that was” how much a certain senator from California sounds like Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

But last week it was the lady from California who showed the iron fist when Dianne Feinstein threatened to add a rider to a jobs bill in order to open Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumps full throttle to slake powerful corporate farmers on the West Side of the Central Valley.

“There is precedent for the solution I am pursuing,” Feinstein said in a terse statement. “In 2003, Congress unanimously approved legislation that provided water supply certainty with regard to restrictions imposed to protect the Silvery Minnow in New Mexico.”

This is true. When in 2003 the 10th Circuit Court upheld the right of the fish to water in Rio Grande Silvery Minnow et al., v. Keys et al, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) responded with legislation to prevent the federal Bureau of Reclamation from giving it to them. Go to the bottom of the Defenders of Wildlife page on the saga for links to the silvery minnow’s unhappy migration through court and Congress.

It is mildly surprising that a Bay Area Democrat would invoke a move by the Republican whose name is all but synonymous with the US attorneys scandal, but not shocking. Any precedent in a drought and Senator Feinstein is pre-Hope. She has already richly illustrated her contempt for the Endangered Species Act and the scientific opinions of Interior and Commerce department biologists with her demand last fall that their opinions behind Delta fish protections be reviewed (and hopefully discredited) by the National Academy of Sciences.

Still, it is not an exaggeration to say that her move could condemn California’s salmon fishery. Astonishment at that is palpable. Aquafornia, the news feed of the Water Education Foundation, has a full net of articles, including a Sacramento Bee editorial and an opinion piece from the San Francisco Chronicle. The most interesting might be the Aquafornia-linked letter that Los Angeles Congresswoman Grace Napolitano sent to Feinstein last week pointing out all the hard-won, democratically-wrought solutions to California’s water crisis that an imperial move by the upper house would imperil.

The Chronicle piece hints at one compelling reason for Feinstein’s sudden decision to leap-frog the gnarly consensus-building detailed in Napolitano’s letter. Politics. It’s an election year and a key Republican talking point in California is that Democrats are fish huggers. Senator Feinstein’s move adds an exclamation point that she is not soft on fish!

But that still doesn’t explain her loading up the Enola Gay. Feinstein’s fish-hating credentials were already abundantly clear to anyone familiar with the politics. What she did do last week was reframe discussion of water in the state. Week before last the $11bn water bond and infrastructure it involves due to come before California voters in November looked radical, impossibly costly and faced strong opposition from many environmentalists.

This week, it seems positively tame.


3 Responses to “Soft on fish”

  1. John Bass
    February 15th, 2010 @ 1:13 am

    Couldn’t agree more, on all points and projections. Nixon in China, meet Senator Feinstein and the Endangered Species Act.

  2. "Silvery minnow" no precedent for Feinstein rider | Chance of Rain
    February 16th, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

    […] follow up to “Soft on Fish” arrived today from a member of the water bar familiar with the 2003 Silvery Minnow […]

  3. Suggestion for the senator | Chance of Rain
    February 17th, 2010 @ 8:23 am

    […] background on the senator’s move, click here and for an informed look at the supposed “precedent” for the proposed rider, here. […]

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