[env-trinity] Obama administration bans public from toxic selenium monitoring meetings (updated)

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sat Sep 10 11:05:04 PDT 2011

From: Dan Bacher <danielbacher at fishsniffer.com>
Date: September 7, 2011 3:50:20 PM PDT
Subject: Obama administration bans public from toxic selenium monitoring meetings (updated)


Photo: Aerial LANDSAT photo of the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge.  


Obama administration bans public from toxic selenium monitoring meetings 

by Dan Bacher 

In the latest federal attack on democratic process and transparency in California, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation barred downstream representatives from meetings of a group tasked with monitoring toxin selenium discharges from western San Joaquin Valley agricultural wastewater into the San Joaquin River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and San Francisco Bay. 

Bill Jennings, executive director/chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), said the move came on the heels of a new U.S. Geological Survey study indicating that toxic selenium discharges into the San Joaquin River need to be up to 50 times smaller than the current water quality objectives. New federal documents also indicate toxic selenium pollution already exceeds legally safe water quality objectives in water below the federal export pumps in the Delta Mendota Pool. 

The banned "non-persons," including representatives from the Southern California Watershed Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Crab Boat Owners Association, Sierra Club California, Friends of the River, North Coast Rivers Alliance, California Water Impact Network, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Salmon Water Now, and AquAlliance, filed a protest letter over the Bureau's outrageous action on Wednesday, September 7. 

"Late Friday, September 2, 2011, we were informed by Reclamation’s Chair of the Grassland Bypass Project’s Data Collection and Review Team (DCRT) that 'outside observers' will be barred from the meetings of these public agencies who oversee the monitoring of the GBP," the letter stated. "This action seems arbitrary and designed to exclude those most impacted by pollution caused by the GBP—the conservation, fishing and community groups advocating for water quality downstream from the discharge." 

Why the exclusion from meetings? 

"No rationale was provided as to why these meetings suddenly need to be held in secret, behind closed doors, excluding only selected members of the public, while others are granted access. For example, consultants for the dischargers, the San Francisco Estuary Institute, lawyers for the Grassland Drainers, and others, are given access," the letter emphasized. 

The groups said in the letter that it appears that the US Geological Survey study's critique of the program "triggered a backlash" that resulted in the public being banned from the meeting. 

Pete Lucero, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, responded that the meetings that members of the public were barred from are not public meetings, but are "agency discussions" among scientists doing data collection. 

"This is not a public forum," said Lucero. "This is a deliberative discussion among the agencies and this is not the right time for public participation. Once we have a document that is ready for public review, there will be the opportunity for the public to weigh in with their comments, questions and concerns relative to the public document." 

However, Krieger responded, "That's BS because other members of the public are being allowed in. Why are they just excluding those whose interests will be hurt? What do they have to hide? What are they afraid of?" 

Representatives of fishing, conservation, and community organizations were originally granted access to the now-barred meetings in committments made before the State Water Resources Control Board leading up to the granting of a decade-long pollution waiver for the San Joaquin's toxic selenium dischargers. 

"The Board granted the pollution waiver extension with the understanding there would be public participation in the monitoring process," according to the groups. "This change in the participation policy alters a material condition upon which granting the permit was based." 

Secret meetings lead to disaster 

"This is yet another set of secret meetings just like the Monterey Plus Agreement closed door meetings in 1995 that led to higher water rates for millions of urban ratepayers in southern California," said Carolee Krieger, Executive Director and President of the California Water Impact Network. "Do we really want to go down this road again? How long are we, the public, going to sit and take this?" 

"Nothing good can come of secret, closed door meetings that welcome polluters and exclude the public and victims of pollution," said Jennings. 

The San Joaquin's toxic selenium disaster drew national attention in the early 1980s when toxic runoff sparked die-offs and grotesque deformities among waterfowl and other wildlife within the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, as exposed by US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and environmental hero Felix Smith, now a board member of the Save the American Association. 

“Even though the poisoned ponds of Kesterson were buried in the 1980’s, selenium continues to pollute the waters and wildlife refuges of the San Joaquin Valley and the Delta,” said Krieger. 

Selenium acts as a beneficial nutrient for humans and other animals in small doses, but can cause serious health problems or death in higher doses, according to the groups. 

The larger context: the state and federal war on democracy 

The exclusion of the public by the Bureau of Reclamation occurs in the context of the state and federal governments' war on civil liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, transparency in government and the democratic process. The exclusion of the public from meetings where decisions are being made that will adversely impact them are paralleled in the state and federal plans to build the peripheral canal through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), California's corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and numerous other government boondoggles. 

In the BDCP's Management Committee, Delta residents, fishermen, family farmers, California Indian Tribes and environmental justice communities have been completely excluded. Their exclusion is no surprise, since the Brown and Obama administrations fear that they would question plans to build the peripheral canal ("conveyance"), a budget-busting disaster that would result in the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, green sturgeon and other imperiled fish species. 

Likewise, the privately funded MLPA process to create so-called "marine protected areas," in a classic example of institutional racism and elitism, completely excluded tribal scientists from the MLPA Science Advisory Team. Nor did state officials appointed any tribal representatives on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force until 2010, six years after the privatized process began in 2004 under the direction of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, one was finally appointed. 

To date, the California Fish and Game Commission has refused to acknowledge tribal gathering rights on the California coast under the MLPA Initiative, a process overseen by a big oil lobbyist, agribusiness hack, real estate executive, coastal developer and other corporate operatives. “Any attempt to institutionally diminish our right to gather coastal resources is essentially an act of ethnic cleansing,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke said in a news release on June 27. “We depend on these traditions to carry on our culture for the rest of time.” 

For a copy of the letter, please visit: http://salmonwaternow.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/USBR-Bars-Public-From-P 
ollution-Monitoring-Mtgs.pdf. For the press release on the USGS study and links to the report, go to: http://www.c-win.org/content/selenium-pollution-risks-drinking-water-and-wildlife-documented-federal-reports.html). 

For more information, call Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, 209-938-9053, http://www.calsport.org, or Carolee Krieger, California Water Impact Network, 805-969-0824, http://www.c-win.org.

Tom Stokely
Water Policy Analyst/Media Contact
California Water Impact Network
V/FAX 530-926-9727
Cell 530-524-0315
tstokely at att.net

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