Dark Links: the MLPA Initiative and Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Written By: Dan Bacher, December 11, 2013

Dark Links: the MLPA Initiative and Bay Delta Conservation Plan

The privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels at first may appear to be entirely different processes. 

The MLPA Initiative, a process begun in 2004 under the Schwarzenegger administration, purported to create a network of "marine protected areas" along the California coast. The network was supposedly completed on December 19, 2012 with the imposition of widely-contested "marine protected areas" along the North Coast. 

On the other hand, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a process begun under the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations to achieve the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem restoration. The Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement was released to the public on Monday, December 9 and the 120 day public comment period will begin on Friday, December 13. 

However, in spite of some superficial differences, the two processes are united by their leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and numerous conflicts of interest. When people educate themselves on the links between the two processes, I believe they can more effectively wage a successful campaign against the twin tunnels. 

Mike Carpenter, a sea urchin diver and organizer of a fundraiser for the California Fisheries Coalition in Albion on the Mendocino coast, made the vital connection between the MLPA process and Scharzenegger's campaign to build a peripheral canal back in 2009 when the battle against the creation of fake "marine protected areas" on the North Coast was amping up. 

Carpenter emphasized that the MLPA Initiative was just a "cover-up" for the Governor's plans to build a peripheral canal or tunnel around the California Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, through the Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process. Carpenter's words have proven very prophetic, considering what has happened since that time. 

How are the peripheral tunnels plan and MLPA process linked by leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and conflicts of interest? 

1. Leadership: Phil Isenberg, a former Sacramento Mayor and Assemblyman, chaired the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force to create fake "marine protected areas" on the Central Coast from 2004 to 2007. Isenberg then went on to Chair the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force that advocated building a peripheral canal or tunnel. 

After that process was finished, he went on to chair the Delta Stewardship Council created under the water policy/water bond legislative package of 2009. Under his leadership, the Council released a Delta Plan that creates a clear path to the construction of the peripheral tunnels. The deeply-flawed plan is now being contested in court by 7 lawsuits from a diverse array of water contractors, agribusiness interests, urban water agencies, environmentalists, Indian Tribes and fishing groups. 

John Laird, former State Senator and the current Natural Resources Secretary, is the key cheerleader for both the MLPA Initiative and the peripheral tunnels. He oversaw the completion of the fake "marine protected areas" for both the South Coast in January 2012 and the North Coast on December 2012, in spite of overwhelming opposition by fishermen, Tribal leaders and grassroots environmentalists. 

2. Funding: The Resources Legacy Fund Foundation and David and Lucille Packard Foundation both funded the MLPA Initiative, along with giving millions of dollars to the "environmental" NGOs that support both the MLPA and BDCP processes. (http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site/big-corporate-money-behind-fake-marine-protection

Five non-profits donated a total of $20 million for the creation of "marine protected areas" under the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The Packard Foundation, the biggest contributor to the widely-criticized process, contributed $8.2 million to the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation to fund MLPA hearings. 

The Packard Foundation also helped fund, along with the Stephen Bechtel Foundation, several PPIC reports advocating the construction of the peripheral tunnels as the "solution" to California's water problems and ecosystem restoration. 

3. Greenwashing Goals: Desperately needed actions to restore our ocean, bay and Delta waters have been substituted under the MLPA Initiative with the imposition of redundant fishing closures on the most heavily regulated ocean waters on the planet to further the Governor's "green" facade. 

The alleged "marine reserves" created under the MLPA scam fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, military testing, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean than fishing and gathering - at a time when the ocean is under assault by the oil industry, corporate polluters and ocean industrialists. 

In the case of the Delta Vision and BDCP processes, the dire need to restore the Delta by decreasing water exports and retiring drainage impaired land on the San Joaquin Valley's west side has been substituted with plans to build twin tunnels and increase water exports to corporate agribusiness, developers and oil companies while taking Delta family farms out of production under the guise of “habitat restoration.” 

4. Racism and denial of tribal rights: Tribal and environmental justice communities in both processes have been excluded in a classic example of environmental racism. 

The racism of the MLPA process was demonstrated when the Yurok Tribe was banned from harvesting abalone, mussels and seaweed off their traditional areas off the False Klamath and Reading Rock as they have done for thousands of years under the "marine protected areas" that went into effect off the coast last December. 

And in spite of direct action protests and outrage by Tribal members, fishermen and grassroots environmentalists over the flawed Initiative, the MLPA Initiative still fails to recognize tribal gathering rights in no take "State Marine Reserves," allowing tribal gathering only in "State Marine Conservation Areas" where some fishing and gathering is already allowed. 

Likewise, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan has been developed without any consent from California Tribes, as required under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. In fact, the first formal informational meeting for California Tribes on the BDCP was held on December 10, in Sacramento - the day after the EIR/EIS for the tunnel plan was released! 

That is hardly "government-to-government" consultation, as required under state, federal and international law. 

“There is no precedent for the killing of an estuary of this size, so how could any study be trusted to protect the Delta for salmon and other fish?" asked Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe at a press conference against the tunnels at the State Capitol on December 9. "How can they even know what the effects will be? The end of salmon would also mean the end of Winnemem, so the BDCP is a threat to our very existence as indigenous people.” 

5. Junk Science: Both the MLPA Initiative and BDCP fiasco have relied on false assumptions and flawed data with little or no basis in natural science to advance their goals and objectives. 

In the case of the MLPA Initiative, the Yurok Tribe said it attempted on numerous occasions to address the scientific inadequacies with the MLPA science developed under the Schwarzenegger administration by adding "more robust protocols" into the equation, but was denied every time. 

The Northern California Tribal Chairman's Association, including the Chairs of the Elk Valley Rancheria, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Smith River Rancheria, Trinidad Rancheria, and Yurok Tribe, documented in a letter how the science behind the MLPA Initiative developed by Schwarzenegger's Science Advisory Team is "incomplete and terminally flawed." (http://yubanet.com/california/Dan-Bacher-MLPA-Initiative-based-on-incomplete-and-terminally-flawed-science.php

Frankie Joe Myers, Yurok Tribal member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist, exposed the refusal to incorporate Tribal science that underlies the "science" of the MLPA process on the day of the historic direct action protest by a coalition of over 50 Tribes and their allies in Fort Bragg in July 2010. 

“The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism," said Myers. "It doesn't recognize Tribes as political entities, or Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists." (http://klamathjustice.blogspot.com/2010/07/july-21st-2010.html

The BDCP “science” is also a sham. On July 18, 2013 scientists from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service exposed the hollowness of Secretary John Laird and other state officials that the BDCP is based on "science." This was done after the federal agencies had already made "red flag" comments stating that the completion of the tunnel plan could hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species. 

The federal scientists provided the California Department of Water Resources and the environmental consultants with 44 pages of comments highly critical of the Consultant Second Administrative Draft EIR/EISDraft, released on May 10. The agencies found, among other things, that the draft environmental documents were “biased,” “insufficient," "confusing," and "very subjective." (http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/Libraries/Dynamic_Document_Library/Federal_Agency_Comments_on_Consultant_Administrative_Draft_EIR-EIS_7-18-13.sflb.ashx

Then on December 9, Bob Wright of Friends of the River summed up the complete lack of science that the BDCP is based upon when he said, "Government agencies calling the BDCP a conservation plan is a fraud on the public." 

"The plan is to grab the water and in the process take it away from designated critical habitat for several already endangered and threatened species of fish including Sacramento River Winter-Run and Central Valley Spring-Run Chinook Salmon and drive them into extinction. That is against the law because federal agencies are prohibited from doing that by the Endangered Species Act," said Wright. 

6. Conflicts of Interest: The Blue Ribbon Task Forces to create “marine protected areas” were filled with individuals with numerous conflicts of interest, including a big oil lobbyist, a marine corporation executive and a coastal real estate developer. 

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association and a relentless advocate for offshore oil drilling, fracking, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the weakening of environmental laws, chaired the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task that developed the MPAs that went into effect in Southern California waters on January 1, 2012. She also served on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces for the North Coast, North Central Coast and Central Coast. 

While Reheis-Boyd served on the task forces to "protect" the ocean, the same oil industry that the "marine guardian" represents was conducting environmentally destructive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations off the Southern California coast. Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and media investigations by Associated Press and truthout.org reveal that the ocean has been fracked at least 203 times in the past 20 years, including the period from 2004 to 2012 that Reheis-Boyd served as a "marine guardian.” 

In the case of the BDCP, the proverbial fox is also in charge of the hen house. Governor Jerry Brown this September appointed Laura King Moon of Woodland, a lobbyist for the state’s water exporters, as chief deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/09/18/18743462.php 

Moon had been a project manager for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan since 2011 while “on loan” from the State Water Contractors, an association of 27 public agencies from Northern, Central and Southern California that purchase water under contract from the California State Water Project. 

DWR also hired Susan Ramos, Deputy General Manager of the Westlands Water District, "on loan" from the district to serve as "a liaison between all relevant parties" surrounding the Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program (DHCCP) and provide "technical and strategic assistance" to DWR. (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/12/14/18702762.php

Documents obtained by this reporter under the California Public Records Act revealed that Ramos was hired in an "inter-jurisdictional personal exchange agreement" between the DWR and Westlands from November 15, 2009 through December 31, 2010. The contract was extended to run through December 31, 2011 and again to continue through December 31, 2012. 

We can see that MLPA and BDCP processes have much in common in terms of their leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and numerous conflicts of interest. I believe that people can more effectively oppose the Governors's twin tunnel plan by understanding the dark links between the MLPA Initiative and BDCP. 

The unjust implementation of fake "marine protected areas" under the MLPA Initiative also provides a cautionary tale for activists fighting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan - the fact that science, state, federal and international laws and the majority of people are on your side doesn't necessarily mean that you will prevail. The state and federal governments have a long history of implementing projects that don't make any scientific, legal or economic sense because powerful corporate interests effectively bought off and manipulated agency and elected officials to produce a pre-determined outcome. 

It is vital that people fighting against the BDCP and for the restoration of salmon and other fish populations in California learn from both the successes and mistakes of MLPA Initiative opponents so they can more effectively wage a successful campaign to stop the construction of Governor Jerry Brown's twin tunnels. 

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