Monday, November 09, 2009

An inside job

It is very difficult to work on a project, especially a legislative effort, from the outside. Many hours and much more money are required to get enough people to become passionate enough about any issue to indirectly influence that legislation. It is even more difficult when the issue is California Water with a history of confrontation, a Water Code filled with arcane references to events long past and a bureaucracy in Sacramento that seems good only at drafting opinions.

We watch while lobbyists march in and out of legislative offices, offering advice and even suggesting the wording of bills. It all seems so slimy that it is no wonder the vast majority of the American public view lobbyists as a special kind of agent of evil.

When you have a policy position contrary to that of the big money corporate lobbyists, you might jump at a chance to go inside, help craft the legislation that is going to emerge and hope to include your own goals and projects. The danger is that some of the slime might rub off on you, but never mind, since your goals are above reproach.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has become particularly adept at this inside play and it is truly hard to find fault with their professed goals, every one of which they list in their appeals for more money to do more good work. But some times the final results make about as much ecological sense as mountain removal mining.

It is like their many letters I have received, raising money with an appeal to protect the polar bear. It might work for some, but the species that needs protecting from extinction is homo sapiens and they need protection from themselves.

I really must commend NRDC water analyst Barry Nelson for having finally become a real insider. He will list NRDC's his accomplishments on his switchboard blog and try to get us all plugged in. Nelson links us to a summary of the water legislation from another insider, the Conservation Strategy Group. Ok, they are paid lobbyists so maybe it doesn't count. They include the Metropolitan and Marin County Water Districts as their clients… and we know that the Metropolitan Water District is very concerned about how and when that are required to do anything. Maybe the synopsis from Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard would have been more objective or at least more inclusive.

If Conservation is really what the NRDC was trying to make happen, how then can we believe that they can accept a 20% reduction in per capita water use by 2020 for all of California and then allow the legislation to not require specific quantitative reductions. It is all about plans and even the slaps on the wrist are about whether or not someone submitted a plan, not about whether that plan would achieve the stated goals.

It appears that the NRDC and the Conservation Stragegy Group have "strategized" a game in which one side (Urban) has measurements and the other side (Ag) only has goals. Even the goals have yet to be defined, definition takes hearings, appeals, challenges. I don't think we need to play that game to know who wins. Big corporate farms and their cooperative water districts.

What I want to know is just what NRDC gets out of this... we know that Conservation Strategy Group always gets more contracts. How much did they have to compromise away to get even a token bill passed? We really want to know because we are the ones who will eventually have to pay.

California could have had a much better plan, but water flows to money and when money is in play, it is better to be inside. When we ask how did all of this get out of control, the answer will be... it was an inside job.

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