Thursday, January 08, 2009

San Francisco Chronicle Prints Anyone

We all know that the current controversy about the California Delta is one of the most important water issues in the country. We will make a decision based on the data subject to scientific analysis or we will make a decision based on ideology and the pandering to political expediency. The point of the controversy is whether or not to spend $ Billions constructing a canal to divert water around (or through) the Delta with little regard for what happens to the delta, its fish, the livelihood of its farmers, the success of commercial fish industry.

Along comes the San Francisco Chronicle with an OpEd disguised as an article written by two flacks for the Wise Use lobby. If you want to know how embarrassing it is to see this stuff in a newspaper that you frequently read, click Read more! I'll spell it out.

First let me make a couple of points about the credentials of the authors.

Craig Manson is not a scientist nor a journalist. He is a lawyer who got a political job in Washington during the Bush Administration. While he is not one of the Dept. of the Interior officials so tainted by their association with Jack Abramoff, maybe that is only because he did not need to be bribed to do the damage that he did. It was enough, however, that a more reputable magazine, High Country News called him out for being part of the problems in Interior.
A Government Accountability Office investigator testified to Congress that other Interior officials should have been examined as part of the MacDonald investigation, including Craig Manson, Brian Waidmann, Todd Willens and Randal Bowman. Though the three were never actually accused of wrongdoing, some did their part aboveboard to stick it to endangered species. Willens was once senior staff advisor to Richard Pombo, the notorious California congressman who attempted to gut the Endangered Species Act. While at Interior, he pushed to remove the Florida manatee and other species from endangered species protection. Willens left Interior in 2008 and — you don't say!? — became a lobbyist.
Manson came back to his comfort zone in Sacramento to teach law.

Manson's co-author, Brandon Middleton is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation where a site search show his name attached to exactly one case. The Pacific Legal Foundation is key part of the Wise Use movement and has a long history of attacks on the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Their claim is that they are "supporting freedom from environmental extremism." The reality is that they are the last desperate gasp of a 19th century mentality that saw all of nature as an abundance waiting to be exploited.

So, when these two lawyers say that
There is little science to support the notion that pumping restrictions will solve the problem of the smelt's decline.
they are not qualified to make that judgment.

What they do is to fall back on an old rhetorical trick. They demand absolute certainty that an action will produce results before any action that then don't like might be attempted.
In contrast, there is nothing close to a guarantee that increased pumping restrictions will help the delta smelt.
I will admit that they do list other problems with the delta, including contamination. Their reference to "a toxic water habitat for the smelt" seems a direct reference to the contamination of Delta waters through runoff from irrigation practices in the Westlands Water District. Just think of this. If the pumps that are referenced in this article are turned off, Westlands Water district would not have as much runoff and the water quality in the Delta would be improved. That would be a double benefit. Such goodness is too much to ask from a couple of lawyers.

It would also be much better journalistic practice for the Chornicle to have called this the the OpEd that it really is.

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