The President and the Drought
The President isn't coming to California to tell us how much he loves Republican ideas.
Feb 10, 2014
President Barrack Obama is coming to the Valley to "address the drought and federal efforts to deal with it" (Fresno Bee 2/7/14). Congressmen Devin Nunes, David Valadao and Kevin McCarthy have led an effort in the House to pass legislation to modify the Endangered Species Act and allow more pumping out of the Delta, and to repeal the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement to allow more water (behind Friant Dam) for people and less for fish. According to Michael Doyle at the Bee Washington Bureau, Dianne Feinstein said "today's bill is another irresponsible proposal that puts politics ahead of the needs of California, and candidly, it's very disappointing," Feinstein also said in a statement that the House bill "is disingenuous, it is irresponsible and it is dangerous." Safe to say she doesn't like it?
Governor Jerry Brown called the House bill an "unwelcome and divisive intrusion" in the state's efforts to address the crisis by pitting water users against one another. Some of us think environmental policies are an "unwelcome and divisive intrusion" pitting water users against one another. Call us crazy.
The Governor also says federal legislation interferes with the state's efforts, implying the feds shouldn't get involved in state issues. This, of course, ignores the fact that it's the federal intrusion into the state that causes most of our problems. The ESA is federal. River Restoration is federal. The feds made the mess and only the feds can correct it. So, the Governor, although without any power to fix these things himself, doesn't want the House to intrude. Will the Governor welcome the President to California to fix the drought? Does he realize the President is federal? Of course he does. It's not about federal intrusion, it's about whose side is intruding.
The other players in this drama, Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Jim Costa are also less than enthusiastic about the House bill, although Costa did vote in favor of it. In a joint statement with Dianne Feinstein, Senator Boxer said “While House Republicans are pursuing divisive and discredited policies, we will be proposing solutions that will help bring relief to the communities hardest hit by this unprecedented drought." Can we assume she doesn't like it either? As for Congressman Costa, although voting for the bill, said “It’s time for cooler heads to prevail. I hope that we can engender bipartisan support, because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s going to take.” If it's time for cooler heads, is he saying the Republicans are hot heads?
So, now enters the President. According to the L.A. Times, The White House said if the bill makes it to President Obama’s desk, his advisors will recommend a veto because it would, among other things, “disrupt decades of work that supports building consensus, solutions, and settlements that equitably address some of California's most complex water challenges.’’ The President's advisors don't sound like they like it either.
The smelt/pumping/ESA issue is off the table. The River Restoration Settlement is off the table. What's on the table? The Twin Tunnels? The Democrats are having a civil war over this issue within their own party. This is the Governor's $25B state solution to the federal ESA problem. The Nunes solution, by the way, would not only cost nothing, but would save over $25B. The Water Bond? Again, Democrats are at odds with each other on this issue, most of them trying to take storage out of the bill. Senator Feinstein released a statement saying her bill will “offer relief for California and other drought-stricken states and to streamline federal projects and operations. We have worked with federal and state agencies, rural irrigation districts and urban water districts to draft legislation that will minimize controversy yet still maximize water supplies during this drought period. California is facing a 500-year drought, and the time to act is now.” Can someone please interpret this statement?
Dianne Feinstein has been saying for a number of years now that she's going to present legislation to fix the water problem. But, in the end she has never come up with any ideas except to take water away from an industry that produces over $45-billion of farm production value, not counting the billions that spin their way through the state's economy.
Here's what we know: The two main solutions to the Valley's water problems are off the table. The President isn't coming to California to tell us how much he loves Republican ideas. The President is on the same page as Senators Feinstein and Boxer. Nothing government has done in the past twenty years has brought more water to farmers, only less. Our system is becoming more and more reliable for fish, and less and less reliable for people and farms. We suspect this will still be true come Saturday.
The White House announced Friday that President Barack Obama will come to Fresno on Feb. 14 to discuss the drought and federal efforts to deal with it.
A White House official said further details about the president's trip to the central San Joaquin Valley will be made public in the coming days.
The trip will mark Obama's first visit to the Fresno area. The only other time he visited the region was in October 2012 when he traveled to the United Farm Workers headquarters at Keene in Kern County to dedicate the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument.
The drought has been a key focus of action in the House this week. The Republican-led House on Wednesday passed a water bill authored by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, that would limit water releases into the San Joaquin River to help the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The measure, which passed on largely party lines, also would allow expansion of McClure Reservoir on the Merced River, allow more storage at New Melones Reservoir, lengthen some federal irrigation contracts and pre-empt some state laws.
Congressional Democrats denounced the bill, and California Gov. Jerry Brown called it divisive. Sen. Dianne Feinstein promised to propose a bill of her own.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, visited a dusty field in Bakersfield on Jan. 22 to see the impact of the drought firsthand. Following that meeting, he and Valley Republican congressmen -- Valadao, Devin Nunes of Tulare and Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield -- called on fellow lawmakers to support emergency legislation to help the farm-dependent Valley deal with the drought.
The emergency legislation passed by the House is now in the Senate, and Nunes is hopeful that the Senate will either take up the House bill or that Feinstein will offer her own legislation.
"I welcome the president to the Valley -- as long as he's going to tell us which way he's going to get us water. We don't need press conferences. We need action by the Senate and a signature by him."
Nunes said the Obama visit "must mean the Senate is going to take up our bill, pass it, and we can have a bill-signing ceremony in Fresno next Friday. I hope that's the case."
Democrat Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno was glad to learn of the president's upcoming visit.
"We've been wanting the president to come to the Valley for a long time. The federal agencies' willingness to work with the governor and state to deal with our short-term water problems is absolutely essential," he said. "I expect the president to talk about how he's going to cooperate with the governor to address problems not only in the Valley, but throughout California."
Trent Orr, an attorney with the Bay Area environmental group Earthjustice, said he will be curious to hear what Obama says next week. Orr has helped litigate issues related to the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta and fish like the Delta smelt.
"I hope he realizes and recognizes that it is not the fish that are causing the drought," he said. "That seems to be the theme you get from Costa and Nunes and those guys. Right now, nobody's getting water -- including the fish."
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