[env-trinity] Miller Press Release

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon May 21 18:02:27 PDT 2007


NEWS

Congressman George Miller, California's 7th District

Monday, May 21, 2007

Danny Weiss, 202-225-2095

Miller and Rahall Launch Inquiry into New Conflict

of Interest at Interior Department

Senior lawmakers press Bush Administration on

manipulation of science in a California

endangered species decision

WASHINGTON, DC - Two senior House Democrats launched an inquiry today into
reports that a Bush Administration political appointee may have improperly
removed a California fish from a list of threatened species in order to
protect her own financial interests.

According to an investigative report published Sunday by the
<http://www.contracostatimes.com/search/ci_5942663> Contra Costa Times,
Julie MacDonald, who resigned this month as Interior Department Deputy
Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was actively involved in
removing the Sacramento Splittail fish from the federal threatened and
endangered species list at the same time that she was profiting from her
ownership of an 80-acre farm in Dixon, CA that lies within the habitat area
of the threatened fish.

MacDonald's financial disclosure statement shows that she earns as much as
$1 million per year from her ownership of the 80-acre active farm. Federal
law bars federal employees from participating in decisions on matters in
which they have a personal financial interest.

The Sacramento Splittail, a small fish found only in California's Central
Valley, depends on floodplain habitat and has been described by the Fish and
Wildlife Service as facing "potential threats from habitat loss."

Today, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), chairman of
the Natural Resources Committee, wrote to Interior Secretary Kempthorne
requesting a full accounting of MacDonald's role in the Sacramento Splittail
decision, an explanation of her apparent conflict of interest, and a
thorough review of the science underlying the decision to remove the
Sacramento Splittail from the threatened species list.


"It looks like another Bush Administration official was protecting her own
bottom line instead of protecting the public interest," said Miller, a
senior member and former chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and a
long-time proponent of the Endangered Species Act and Bay-Delta fish and
wildlife issues. "We are going to fully investigate this matter and
determine whether public policy was improperly altered because of personal
conflicts of interest.

"This news raises serious questions about the integrity of the Interior
Department and its policy decisions," Miller added. "The Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta has enough problems without political appointees at scientific
agencies cooking the books. Who thought it was acceptable for a Deputy
Assistant Secretary to change a major policy decision to exempt her own
million-dollar enterprise from the Endangered Species Act even though
federal law prohibits such conflicts?"

Rahall, who has served on the Natural Resources Committee since 1976 and
became its chairman in January, called on the Department to fully explain
what happened. 

"Time and again, this Administration has demonstrated a complete disregard
for scientists and their work," Rahall said. "Political appointees at the
Interior Department have been allowed to overrule biologists and to work
more closely with special interests than with their own staff. The Interior
Department must explain its deputy assistant secretary's actions in this
very troubling case, which is apparently the latest in a long line of
efforts to undercut species recovery."


The letter from Miller and Rahall comes just two weeks after
<http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/hearings/hearingdetail.aspx?NewsID=71>
a May 9 Committee hearing at which Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett
was questioned about recent controversies in the implementation of the
Endangered Species Act. Her prepared testimony did not mention a report by
the Department's Inspector General on an investigation into MacDonald, nor
did her testimony indicate awareness of the serious consequences of
MacDonald's actions. In the course of the hearing, Scarlett affirmed that
"where there is scientific manipulation, we want to correct that," but no
specifics were provided.

MacDonald resigned from the Interior Department just one week before
Scarlett testified.

The Endangered Species Act established a policy of protecting and recovering
species in decline and their habitats. Fish, wildlife, and plants listed as
"endangered" are in danger of extinction and the federal government is
required to take action to recover them. Species are listed as "threatened"
if it is determined that they may soon become endangered. Other threatened
species in the Bay-Delta region include the green sturgeon and the delta
smelt.

The full text of the letter to The Hon. Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the
Interior, is below.

 

 

May 21, 2007

The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne 

Secretary 

Department of the Interior 
1849 C Street, N.W. 
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Kempthorne: 
We are writing to reiterate the request we made at the House Natural
Resources Committee's hearing on May 9, 2007, and subsequently in writing by
Chairman Nick J. Rahall, II, for a complete accounting of how the Department
of the Interior is responding to the Inspector General's investigation of
Julie MacDonald. Yesterday's newspaper report in the Contra Costa Times on
Julie MacDonald and her role in the decision to remove the Sacramento
Splittail from the list of threatened species demands an immediate response
from the Department. This new information adds very serious charges to her
record.

The Contra Costa Times reports ("Decision on splittail raises suspicions")
that the Fish and Wildlife Service, at MacDonald's direction, may have
improperly ignored scientific evidence when deciding to eliminate the
Sacramento Splittail's threatened species designation, and that MacDonald, a
non-scientist, was heavily involved in the decision. By statute, as you
know, listing and de-listing decisions can only be made on the basis of the
best scientific and commercial data available.

More egregious still, the article demonstrates that MacDonald was profiting
significantly from agricultural property in Sacramento Splittail habitat. It
is our understanding that this is the first and only time that a fish
species has been removed from the list of threatened species for reasons
other than extinction. It is unacceptable that such an unprecedented policy
decision may have been made because a Deputy Assistant Secretary had a
direct and substantial personal financial interest.

In light of this highly troubling new report, please provide us with a full
accounting of former Deputy Assistant Secretary MacDonald's role from
2002-2004 in the Sacramento Splittail decision, including but not limited
to:

1.	Details of her contacts with staff in the California and Nevada
Operations Office and elsewhere within the Department regarding the
Sacramento Splittail; 
2.	A complete accounting of the changes made by Julie MacDonald, and
others, to the Sacramento Splittail listing documents after they were sent
to Washington; and 
3.	Communications regarding the Sacramento Splittail, if any, between
MacDonald and interests outside the Department, including the San Luis &
Delta-Mendota Water Authority, the State Water Contractors, or the
California Farm Bureau.

In addition, please provide us with a full account of former Deputy
Assistant Secretary MacDonald's apparent conflict of interest, including but
not limited to:

1.	Details of her participation in decisions affecting the management
of fish and wildlife species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region,
especially those on or near her property; 
2.	A description of Interior Department decisions, if any, from which
she recused herself based on a conflict of interest, or the appearance of a
conflict; 
3.	A list of officials at the Department who were aware that she
continued to own and profit from agricultural property in California while
serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary; and 
4.	All advice or ethics opinions provided to her by the Department
regarding these matters.

In order to determine the Interior Department's role in overseeing
MacDonald's activities, please provide a description of all formal or
informal action taken by the Department in response to her 2004 decision to
leak documents to the California Farm Bureau's lobbyist in an apparent
attempt to undermine a scientific decision regarding the threatened Delta
smelt.

Finally, in order to address the significant policy implications of
MacDonald's actions, we request that you direct the Fish and Wildlife
Service to re-evaluate whether its decision to de-list the Sacramento
Splittail was based solely upon the best available scientific and commercial
data, as required by law, and to report these findings to the Congress. In
addition, please provide us with the results of each of the three
statistical methods employed by the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine
the health of the Sacramento Splittail's population. Endangered species
decisions must be based on accurate and reliable scientific analysis, not
the conflict of interest of a senior departmental official. This is
especially true for significant and sensitive decisions such as this one,
which could affect the management of California's Bay-Delta and water
operations.

We appreciate your prompt attention to our request. Please contact Ben
Miller with Rep. George Miller's staff at (202) 225-2095, or Lori Sonken
with the Natural Resources Committee staff at (202) 225-6065, with any
questions.

Sincerely,

 

_______________________ _______________________ 
GEORGE MILLER NICK J. RAHALL, II 
Member of Congress Chairman, Committee on Natural Resources

 

 

Byron Leydecker

Friends of Trinity River, Chair

California Trout, Inc., Advisor

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 

415 519 4810 cell

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

http://www.fotr.org

http://www.caltrout.org

 <http://www.fotr.org>  

 

 

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