By Tommy Hough
The Cadiz Water Project is a decades-long scheme to drain an aquifer located beneath the Cadiz Valley in Mojave Trails National Monument, in order to pump water to coastal Southern California so Orange County residents can water their lawns.
Given the current subversion of our government, from the nihilism of the 115th Congress to the sheer ignorance and greed of the Trump Administration, it will come as no surprise that a former Cadiz Inc. lobbyist named David Bernhardt is now the second-in-command at the Interior Department behind Secretary Ryan Zinke, who himself has already carved out a record as the worst Interior chief in our nation's history in less than a year on the job.
Environmental organizations didn't take kindly to Bernhardt's appointment, in part because of his role at Interior a dozen years ago during the first term of George W. Bush. At that time, Bernhardt served as Interior's solicitor general under Secretary Gale Norton (another one of our worst Interior chiefs), and wrote a now-dismissed legal opinion that would've made it easier for the Interior Department to dismiss endangered species recommendations.
Along with loading federal agencies with idiot savant surrogates and destructive minions like Berhardt and Zinke, the Trump administration has done two specific things in order to facilitate the Cadiz Water Project.
One, in local conjunction with Congressman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, they've recommended reducing the boundaries of dozens of long-standing National Monuments around the nation in order to create the precedent to change the boundaries of Mojave Trails National Monument in San Bernardino County in order to access the Cadiz Valley and get at the aquifer.
Two, the Trump Administration has re-written federal right-of-way railroad laws in order to facilitate the project so "red tape" that would otherwise slow the approval of the water pipeline across federal land – in part because water infrastructure doesn't "further a railroad purpose" – would no longer apply.
Fortunately, San Bernardino County is located in California, and the State Lands Commission gets a say because the pipeline would cross state education lands set aside in 1857 by the federal government in the interest of the-then new state of California.
The commission has already determined a lease to cross state lands will require additional environmental review, and that will likely trigger a public process. That's good, and it demonstrates how poorly the Interior Department's original environmental review was, because they didn't even have the right land agency and land ownership indicated in their materials.
The shame is that legislation could've been passed to prevent this. AB 1000 would've stopped the Cadiz project, but unfortunately, even though it was signed off by Governor Brown and nearly every Democrat in the legislature, it was held up by none other than Sen. Kevin DeLeón, who has otherwise been a solid environmental champion. DeLeón allowed the bill to die in committee in September, before announcing his intent to challenge fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein for her incumbent U.S. Senate seat.
According to Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times, in June "Cadiz donated $5,000 to a DeLeón campaign fund, according to state records. Cadiz and [Cadiz Inc. founder Keith] Brackpool, a long-time friend of former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have together contributed nearly $85,000 to Villaraigosa's gubernatorial campaign."
From the environmentalists I've spoken with, state lawmakers can take the case of AB 1000 back up in January, and the Trump Administration still has the State Lands Commission to deal with. How voters opt to handle Sen. DeLeón's role in killing AB 1000 is another matter.
Photos by Chris Clarke (top) and David Lamfrom (bottom).
"On our trips to the Arctic Wildlife Range we saw clearly it was not a place for mass recreation. It takes a lot of territory to keep this living wilderness alive, for scientific observation and aesthetic inspiration. The Far North is a fragile place." – Arctic explorer Olaus Murie, 1963
By Tommy Hough
American conservation suffered a devastating blow Thursday, as the Senate voted to "raise revenue" by authorizing wholly unneeded and unnecessary oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeast Alaska, passed as part a sneaky provision included in the overall federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. There is no reason to expect Mr. Trump will not sign it when it reaches his desk.
Not since the decision to build Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park has such a significant component of America's environmental identity been undone with such sudden, cowardly severity. We've lost the Arctic, and we lost it on our watch.
An amendment to pull Arctic drilling from the budget was offered by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, but the vote failed almost entirely on party lines 52-48, with the exception of Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who voted for the amendment, while Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted against it.
The largest National Wildlife Refuge in the country, there has been a long and lengthy campaign to preserve ANWR – one of America's last, great, intact, pristine wildernesses – and it's now going to be opened to drilling without even the kind of national discussion we're having on other issues, like guns, Puerto Rico, kneeling for the National Anthem at sports events, and the usual horrible things uttered by the president on a daily, even hourly basis.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was first set aside by President Eisenhower in 1960, and later expanded by President Carter in 1980 with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which designated eight million acres of the refuge, or just over one-third, as Wilderness – the gold standard of American conservation.
Interestingly, the refuge was preserved with the intention of only opening it up for drilling if the nation suddenly found itself in a severe oil shortage, as was the concern in 1980 when the nation was still on the heels of the 1979 Energy Crisis.
Of course, in 2017, we're in the midst of an oil glut. Oil is cheaper now that it used to be, in part because of natural gas and renewables, but oil companies have been desperate to pry the Arctic open for decades, despite the clear, present and criminally obvious danger such activity poses to the region's sensitive, Arctic environment.
Every Alaska politician going back to Ted Stevens has wanted to open ANWR to oil drilling, and while there was some concern that Lisa Murkowski would use the political capital she earned by voting against repeated Obamacare repeals to earn Democratic support for drilling, other than Joe Manchin the Democratic bloc held firm. They should be thanked and applauded for doing so. We need more of them in the Senate.
With today's Senate vote, conservationists have lost a decades-long fight in the blink of an eye, and we stand to lose an enormous area of habitat and fragile ecosystem that affects land and water, as well as native Alaskans. We cannot continue to have our long-standing, public land conservation icons and landmarks picked off one by one by a Congress devoid of pride or honor, and who will not have to live with the consequences of the rising sea levels and global warming which they themselves are enabling.
In the Senate, we are only a few votes away from consolidating our natural heritage and protecting it as it has been protected for decades – our Wilderness areas, our National Parks, our National Monuments – but that threshold seems very far away on days like this.
When we say call your senators or your congressmen, or when we say something is all-hands on deck or a full court press, we're not crying wolf. You may have friends or family in other states with other senators than those we can rely upon in California. Utilize those relations and networks to call their senators, Democrat and Republican alike. In the fight against a Republican party that, through their repeated actions, votes and rhetoric, abhors any notion of conservation of our natural heritage, we cannot be islands. We must be the change our environment so desperately needs, again and again.
Thank you to club member Michelle de Nicola for sharing a blog she wrote on our Green Blog page, and if you'd like to learn more or see photos of ANWR as the spectacular wilderness it is – and what may soon pass into myth – check out photos of the region from conservation photographers like Florian Schulz and Amy Gulick, or the photo archives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Photos by Steve Chase / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
"This issue has been debated for more than 30 years, and to sneak it into a bill that can't be debated is the kind of abuse of power and process that Americans so loathe from the Congress." – Lydia Weiss, The Wilderness Society
By Michelle de Nicola
On Monday the full Senate will consider the Trump Administration's proposed 2018 budget, which includes opening some of the untouched wilderness in northern Alaska in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. There is no reason to assume the budget won't pass or that Trump won't sign it into law.
This would be a terrible blow to wilderness preservation, and a very bitter end to a lengthy fight to save the Arctic, documented by conservation photographers like Amy Gulick and Florian Shulz.
The only thing that stands between ongoing protection of the refuge, set aside by President Eisenhower in 1960 with the understanding the area would only be "tapped" if world oil supplies were in jeopardy, and destruction of one of the world's most intact wilderness ecosystems is you, your family, your friends, your neighbors – and your phone.
We need to take action IMMEDIATELY. Here's what to do.
1. Call your U.S. senators
Visit the U.S. Senate website to look up your senators, or call the Capitol Hill switchboard and ask to be connected to them at (202) 224-3121. If you're calling your own senator, remind them that you're a constituent. If you call other senators, be sure to say you're calling as a concerned citizen. If you have family or friends in Ohio, have them call their senators. This is an all-hands on deck alert.
The calls eventually go into the office record and the senators are notified. Even a few calls makes a big difference. If no one answers, leave a message on their voicemail. If their D.C. voicemail is full, try calling one of their state office locations.
2. Sign this petition to your senators
This petition includes information about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and why it's crucial to protect it. A few compelling reasons include protecting the "caribou, muskoxen, wolves, 200 species of migratory birds, and polar bears" who call the refuge home. The area is also important "for the Gwich'in Nation, whose home has been the Arctic since time immemorial, [and who] have called for permanent protection of the birthing grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd for over 30 years."
3. Why the urgency?
Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young of Alaska want to move forward with oil extraction in the 2018 budget resolution. Under Senate rules this only needs a simple majority to pass, instead of the 60-vote majority normally required to get bills through the Senate.
In particular, remind Democratic senators who may be inclined to "thank" Sen. Murkowski for her otherwise sensible no votes against repeated attempts to repeal Obamacare that there is no appropriate quid pro quo vote trade that results in drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Murkowski has built political capital into those Obamacare "no" votes – and she expects a return on her investment from her Democratic colleagues.
4. Why is Arctic drilling so dangerous?
When President Obama crafted Arctic Refuge protections at the end of 2016, the Interior Department posted a press release about the issue, saying "Risks associated with oil and gas activity in the remote, harsh and undeveloped Arctic are not worth taking while the nation has ample energy sources near existing infrastructure."
The Interior documents goes on to say, "Oil spill response and clean-up raises unique challenges in the Arctic and a spill could have substantial impacts on the region, particularly given the ecosystem fragility and limited available resources to respond to a spill. If lease sales were to occur and [oil] production take place, it would be at a time when the scientific realities of climate change dictate that the United States and the international community must be transitioning its energy systems away from fossil fuels."
More to consider – Americans are directly impacted by the drilling
Alaskan natives who live off the coast of the Chukchi Sea worry about how the drilling and its impacts will affect their way of life. Consider Kivalina, a community on a barrier reef island in northwest Alaska, which is already suffering dramatic effects from erosion due to climate change.
Northwest Alaska residents face hunger challenges too, especially as permafrost thaws and ice cellars which have historically provided year-round, freezer-style protection for meat supplies are now melting "at unusual times of the year."
In addtion, as sea ice continues to melt, large fracturies in the ice shelf called "leads" continue to grow. A lifelong resident of Kivalina resident says, "The sea ice used to be 12 feet thick, and there was just one lead. Now it is four feet thick and there are many leads."
Why is taking action NOW so important?
According to Lydia Weiss, government relations director for the Wilderness Society, attaching the Arctic drilling measure to the budget "is a way of dodging public debate on the controversial proposal." We agree. Weiss adds, "This issue has been debated for more than 30 years, and to sneak it into a bill that can't be debated is the kind of abuse of power and process that Americans so loathe from the Congress."
CALL TO ACTION
1. CALL your Senators
Visit the U.S. Senate website to look them up your senators here, or call the Capitol Hill switchboard and ask to be connected to them at (202) 224-3121.
2. SIGN this petition to your Senators
This petition includes specific information about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and why it's so important to protect it.
Call now. Write now. By lunchtime on Monday it could be too late.
Photos by Florian Schulz from To the Arctic.
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.