Fish And Game Commissioners Blast PGE Seismic Testing Plan
Written By: Dan Bacher, October 8, 2012
One thing was very clear from the Fish and Game Commission meeting held in Sacramento on Monday, September 24 - the vast majority of people, including Commission members, environmentalists, Indian Tribal representatives, recreational anglers and commercial fishermen, strongly oppose the PG&E's plan to conduct high energy seismic testing with air cannons off the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
In fact, not one of the approximately 50 speakers, who lined up in the Resources Building to comment about the plan after the PG&E, NOAA, Department of Fish and Game and State Lands Commission representatives made their presentations, supported the plan, arguing that the high energy tests will harass, harm and kill whales, dolphins, salmon, rockfish and other marine life.
A large contingent of members of Greenpeace, along with Morro Bay area commercial fishermen, representatives of the Chumash Indian Tribe, Surfrider members, Zeke Grader, the executive director of the Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and many others, spoke out against the plan.
Commission President Jim Kellogg and Commissioner Michael Sutton, who have often disagreed on the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and other issues, both completely agreed on the need to protect marine life from seismic testing in the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve and elsewhere on the Central Coast.
Kellogg stated, "I have been involved since the beginning of the MLPA process and I fought hard to get the best deal for the anglers... Now I will be the strongest advocate to keep protections in place. I've asked PG&E if it would do a world wide search to for other technology to conduct these safety tests."
"It's a Marine Life Protection Area, not a Marine Life Killing Area and as long as I'm here we're not gonna recommend to the Department anything that's killing anything that we're trying to protect," emphasized Kellogg.
"I've seen nothing to convince me that the program is advisable or necessary," said Sutton, referring to the letter from NRDC and other NGOs arguing that the test was not necessary – and that more safe alternatives could be found. "I can't make a recommendation to the Department to issue a permit."
In the reversal of a previous position, Karen Garrison, a senior policy analyst with NRDC’s oceans program and co-director of its ocean program, told California Coastal Commission staff in a September 17 memo, “In summary, we have concluded that the survey will provide only marginal additional informational information that will not affect the safety of the Diablo plant.”
“We recommend that the Coastal Commission deny the permit,” she stated. “If the project goes forward, all possible steps should be taken to minimize to harm to the marine environment, and to mitigate impacts that are unavoidable.”
Commissioner Richard Rogers revealed that fishermen have reported being impacted by the low level testing that is currently being conducted off Diablo Canyon. "I have already heard from commercial fishermen that that the low level testing has cost them 50 percent of their catch. This Commission is watching," he said.
The overwhelming opposition to the plan was evidenced by Commission Executive Director Sonke Mastrup, who said he was deluged with faxes opposing the testing until the machine broke and received 40,000 emails before the website shut down.
"In the end, the Commissioners filled the shoes of giants, directing their staff to attend the upcoming California Coastal Commission meeting, and making sure everyone in the state knew they would not be tolerating any destructive activity in our Marine Protected Areas off the coast, such as the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve," said Joey Racano of the Ocean Outfall Group and the Stop Diablo Canyon Testing Facebook Community. (http://www.facebook.com/StopTheDiabloCanyonSeismicTesting?ref=ts)
No decision was made at the meeting, since it was a special workshop to gather information and discuss the status of PG&E’s proposed Central Coast seismic imaging project, PG&E’s application for a Scientific Collecting Permit and the California Department of Fish and Game’s draft parameters for that permit. Agency staff also discussed the Commission’s regulatory authorities, roles of other state and federal agencies and plans to minimize study impacts and lessons learned for future projects.
The Commission has regulatory authority to protect natural resources and oversee Marine Protected Areas, including those near Diablo Canyon. However, the Fish and Game Commission does not have authority to manage whales, dolphins or sea otters. Marine mammals are protected under federal authorities.
Chumash Representatives Slam Plan, Lack of Consultation
Representatives of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council said they strongly opposed the seismic testing plan – and hadn’t been formally consulted by PGE, state and federal authorities about the project, as is required by state, federal and international laws.
“We have been here for 18,000 years and you we don't give you permission to take wildlife off our coast,” said Fred Collins, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council Administrator.
In a letter read to the Commission, Tribal Chair Antonette Cordero requested a meeting with Kellogg and Commission staff – and said she will also be contacting PG&E to schedule a meeting with their project staff.
“I have been informed by the States Land Commission that PG&E committed to reaching out to all Chumash tribal entities and other affected Native American groups after it was revealed that their initial outreach was inadequate,” said Cordero.” However, I, as tribal chair of the Coastal Bank of the Chumash Nation, have not been contacted.”
“Our right to defend our culture, our ancestors and our marine relatives is guaranteed under federal laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, under California laws, such as the California Environmental Quality Act and the Marine Life Protection Act, and under international accords, such as the United States Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our obligation to steward these areas comes from the Creator and pre-dates state, federal or international laws,” said Cordero.
The tremendous risk the seismic testing presents to whales, dolphins and other marine life is starkly revealed on page 121 of the "Central Coastal California Seismic Imaging Project Environmental Assessment" under Section 4.12.5, Potential Numbers of 'Takes by Harassment.'
The worst case scenario (including a 25% contingency) of “take by harassment” includes 1 Minke Whale, 2 Sperm Whales, 5 Dwarf Sperm Whales, 15 Blue Whales, 97 California Gray Whales, 25 Fin Whales, 13 Humpback Whales, 1 Short-Finned Pilot Whale, 3 Baird’s Beak, 7 Killer Whales, 8 Striped Dolphins, 8 Small Beaked Whales, 81 Dall’s Porpoise, 82 Long-Beaked Dolphins, 98 Risso’s Dolphins, 114 Northern Right Whale Dolphins, 198 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, 1,652 Bottlenose Dolphins, 1,834 Short-Beaked Dolphins, 76 Harbor Seals, 1,062 California Sea Lions,1,485 Southern Sea Otters, untold sea turtles of several varieties, numerous fish and bird species and the next generation sea life including nearly 4 million larva of all types.
PGE Delays and Downsizes Project
A couple of days after the meeting, PG&E requested a postponement and downsizing of the project, in response to the tremendous opposition to the project. The Commission will now hear the seismic testing at the Coastal Commission meeting on November 14 in Santa Monica. The project now only includes the northern study area, according to Diana Chapman of the Commission.
PG&E hadn’t responded to my request for more information by press time
“The project has been delayed and downsized, but the plan remains dangerous, destructive and unnecessary and threatens Morro Bay Estuary State Marine Reserve, Cambria State Marine Reserve, and to the Northwest, Davidson Seamount,” said Racano.
The State Lands Commission (SLC), lead agency on the proposed project, certified the EIR for the project on Aug. 14 and on Aug. 20 adopted the Mitigation Monitoring Program, Findings, and Statement of Overriding Considerations.
“There are alternatives to the ‘air cannon’ method PG and E wants to use that will produce better results and save our marine environment. Demand that they be used,” he said.
Snail Mail or FAX your concerns to the California Coastal Commission at: California Coastal Commission, Central Coast District Office, Dan Carl, Deputy Director 725 Front Street, Suite 300 Santa Cruz, CA 95060-4508 (831) 427-4863, FAX (831) 427-4877.