[env-trinity] Miller and Rahall Press Interior For Response to Congressional Inquiry Over Interference with Delta Fish

Josh Allen jallen at trinitycounty.org
Fri Jul 20 08:52:15 PDT 2007

 Miller and Rahall Press Interior For Response to Congressional Inquiry
Over Interference with Delta Fish 

by Dan Bacher 

The Bush administration, facing a Congressional inquiry into Dick
Cheney's role in the Klamath River fish kill of 2002, is also the hot
seat over allegations that a former Department of Interior official,
Julie A. MacDonald, politically interfered with decisions protecting
delta smelt, splitttail and other fish species.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and the chairman of the House Natural
Resources Committee, Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), on July 18 reiterated their
request for information on the actions of MacDonald, a deputy assistant
secretary at the United States Department of the Interior until her
resignation on May 1. They claimed the Department has failed to answer
the lawmakers' questions regarding her interference with endangered
species decisions.

This scandal comes at time at time when populations of four species of
open water fish - Delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass and threadfin
shad - have reached record lows because of huge increases in federal and
state water exports from the California Delta in recent years.

The California Department of Water Resources, under pressure from
litigation by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, shut down
the state Delta export pumps for a period of nine days in June, but then
resumed the slaughter of hundreds of the remaining, imperiled 2 to 3
inch long fish when they ramped up pumping. The federal Bureau of
Reclamation after temporarily reducing pumping to protect the smelt,
resumed pumping at the same time as the state.

The letter by Rahall and Miller describes a July 6 letter from the
Department as "unresponsive" to their ongoing congressional oversight on
the topic of political interference with endangered species decisions.

"Their inquiry concerns Ms. MacDonald's potential conflict of interest,
her alleged disclosure of nonpublic information regarding the threatened
delta smelt and the Department's apparent failure to adequately respond
to any of these questionable actions over several years," according to a
press release from Miller's office.

"The more we learn about Julie MacDonald's role at Interior, the more
concerned I become," said Miller. "We have asked the Interior Department
a series of questions, and so far the Department has failed to respond
adequately to our concerns. There has been an epidemic of political
interference at Interior. Congress and the public deserve to know why
this political appointee was allowed to interfere in scientific
decisions and in court cases to the detriment of the environment."

MacDonald was actively involved in removing the Sacramento splittail, a
native minnow, from the federal threatened and endangered species list
at the same time that she was profiting from her ownership of a farm
that lies within the habitat area of the threatened fish, according to
an article written by investigative journalist Mike Taugher in the Conta
Costa Times on May 20. This was a blatant conflict of interest. 

The Representatives' letter and a May 21 congressional inquiry follow a
May 9 Natural Resources Committee hearing at which Deputy Interior
Secretary Lynn Scarlett was questioned about controversies in the
implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

"The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has enough problems without political
appointees at scientific agencies cooking the books," said Rep. Miller

According to an October 2006 report by the Union of Concerned
Scientists, MacDonald "personally reversed scientific findings, changed
scientific conclusions to prevent endangered species from receiving
protection, removed relevant information from a scientific document, and
ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to adopt her edits." 

In March 2007, the Interior Department Inspector General, Earl E.
Devaney, reported that MacDonald broke federal rules by giving
non-public, internal government documents to oil industry and property
rights groups, and manipulated scientific findings to favor Bush policy
goals and assist land developers.

" Through interviewing various sources, including FWS employees and
senior officials, and reviewing pertinent documents and e-mails, we
confirmed that MacDonald has been heavily involved with editing,
commenting on, and reshaping the Endangered Species Program's scientific
reports from the field," the report stated. "MacDonald admitted that her
degree is in civil engineering and that she has no formal educational
background in natural sciences, such as biology."

Fishing and conservation groups are appalled by the tremendous damage to
the country's endangered species and environment that MacDonald and
other administration officials have caused.

"It will be years before we discover the monumental scope of the harm
that was done to biological habitat and waterways throughout California
and the nation by MacDonald," said Bill Jennings, executive director of
the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "If anybody should have
a reserved spot in a federal penitentiary, it should be Julie

Macdonald's manipulation of science to benefit wealthy agribusiness and
corporate interests needs to be seen within the context of an
administration that has repeatedly manipulated and broken the country's
environmental laws for political purposes.

The Natural Resources Committee has also scheduled a July 31 oversight
hearing to which Vice President Dick Cheney has been invited to testify
on his apparent role in influencing scientific and policy decisions at
the Department of the Interior that led to the Klamath fish kill of

Cheney spokeswoman Megan McGinn, in typical administration fashion, said
he was not likely to attend, as quoted in an Associated Press article on
July 18. "I do not expect the vice president to testify before the
committee," McGinn stated.



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