Big Green Dries Out Big Valley

OCT. 1, 2010

By STEVEN GREENHUT

When most people think of California, they think obviously enough about the populous and influential coastal cities, from the gleaming Southern California coast to the Bay Area. But east of the coastal ranges and west of the Sierra Nevada mountains lies a vast, fertile and highly populated agricultural region that offers the most varied produce in the nation, yet is suffering an agonizing fate thanks to the power of the environmental movement.

The signs on the dried out farmland along Interstate 5 tell the story: “Congress Created Dust Bowl.” They refer to the federal cut-off of water from the Central Valley to save the supposedly endangered Delta Smelt. It’s one of the clearest cases of the environmental movement’s priorities.

A region of about 6 million people suffers enormously high unemployment as a good portion of the area’s farmland dries out due to the lack of water. The water is being used instead to save what locals refer to as a bait fish. Because the bulk of California’s population lives near the coast, the Central Valley’s plight has received insufficient attention – at least until recent weeks on the campaign trail.

“I have spent a lot of time in the valley, and what is going on here due to lack of water is a humanitarian crisis,” GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman told a crowd near Fresno. GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina said that Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer “has walked away from every opportunity to help.” This attention can’t hurt.

Water supplies have increased after the Obama administration apparently traded water for votes from two San Joaquin Valley Democratic congressmen (Jim Costa of Fresno and Dennis Cardoza of Merced) for his health-care plan. But it’s still tough going in an area that is Ground Zero for the housing meltdown and that suffers viciously high unemployment rates.

Recent figures put the unemployment rate at 21.3 percent in Merced County, 18.9 percent in Stanislaus County, 18.3 percent in Tulare County and 18.4 percent in San Joaquin County. Some smaller towns have unemployment rates as high as 40 percent. Unemployment is traditionally high in those areas, but it’s much higher than normal given the water cut-off in an agriculturally dependent region.

But this crisis may not simply be a matter of the state’s elites having its priorities off kilter. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, believes the environmental Left is purposefully starving the region of water so that it returns to a more natural state. Rep. Nunes’ senior policy advisor, Andrew House, told me in March that 76 percent of the water that enters the Sacramento Delta flushes out to San Francisco Bay and is, essentially, wasted. This purposeful drying up of the San Joaquin Valley is part of a “green utopian experiment,” House argued. Since 1992, state policy has been pulling more and more water out of agricultural uses and diverting it to environmental protection.

Meanwhile, state officials refuse to upgrade a faltering water infrastructure, while environmentalists lobby for the destruction of the state’s dams.

I’ve interviewed and battled with many environmentalists in my days on a newspaper editorial page and it’s clear that these folks will use any excuse, or any fish for that matter, to achieve their goal of limiting growth and “protecting” the land from human uses, including agricultural ones. “The radical side of the environmental movement, working with their patrons in government, is fighting a war of attrition in the San Joaquin Valley of California,” House added.

Whether their motives are misguided or malevolent, the environmental movement clearly is wreaking destruction here. Given that the state’s real political power lies far from the inland farm regions, this is unlikely to change even if the worst offenders are booted from office in November.

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  1. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 1 October, 2010, 11:20

    They cut off the water to the farmers of the Central Valley, yet they want to build a canal to suck more water out of the same river system in order to ship it to LA? We cannot take that water in order to grow food for people to eat, but we can take that water and transport it hundreds of miles so people in LA can water their post card landscaping?

    Look at everything done by CARB, All of the Coastal Commissions, and the politicians who pick up the “green” cause to get votes. Everything they do kills jobs, decreases food production, makes it more difficult(expensive) to travel, more difficult to do business, makes it more difficult to get clean water, and just makes like more difficult in every aspect.

    These Environmental Radicals are trying to force people out of their Mecca. In their eyes, Humans are an invasive species and they hate the fact that we are in their beautiful state. They want CA to go back to the way it was before it was soiled by man, and the best way to do that is to make it almost impossible to prosper or provide for a family. There are way too many people in CA and the only people that really deserve to be here is their lemmings who will do exactally what they say and are only here to protect mother earth.

    I dont know how these nuts got in power, but they need to be kicked to the curb real quick. Their next step will be to incorporate PETA & the Sierra Club into the state government.

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  2. Bruce Ross
    Bruce Ross 1 October, 2010, 16:45

    Steve,

    Can we get real? The San Joaquin Valley has been a humanitarian crisis for decades, but conservatives never much cared until they had a tool to beat up environmentalists with.

    Is Merced County unemployment high? Yep, and it always has been. (Peak of the real estate bubble, the best month it could manage in 2006 was 8 percent.) It’s risen to catastrophic heights lately because it is, as you say, Ground Zero for the housing meltdown.

    Take a look at the annual crop reports from the Merced County ag commissioner. In 2009, acreage under production rose from the previous year. Take a look at the UC Davis economists’ revised report on the effects of the water cutoff — the same guys who put out the original circa-100,000 figure. It’s now far lower.

    Look, don’t get me wrong. Farms need water. And there are over-the-top enviros — some of whom would like to see some of the westside fallowed. (Of course, the government built those irrigation ditches in the first place.) But an honest reading of the facts just doesn’t support the conclusion that water is behind the economic calamity that region is suffering. It’s a lie.

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  3. Paul Taylor Examiner
    Paul Taylor Examiner 2 October, 2010, 07:20

    ECOPOLITICS
    PAUL TAYLOR
    California has been a leader in American trends of entertainment, outdoor sports, cars, alternative lifestyles, environmentalism, and unfortunately of late, dysfunctional state government. Today, the once “Golden State” is deeply tarnished by massive annual budget deficits and political corruption where the partisan special interests of militant labor union, divisive immigrant and radical environmental lobbies reign supreme.

    Californians are suffering an unprecedented 12.5% unemployment rate as economic recession deepens. Californians, without any federal orders or proof of climate benefits, naively approved the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32). AB 32 would impose costly 2012 reductions in state greenhouse gases for global warming benefits. All new environmental regulations increase the unit production costs and corresponding consumer prices of all goods, services, energies and activities. AB 32 would further punish California businesses and families with more taxes, energy expenses and unemployment as we enter the third year of an historic national economic recession.

    Proof of the punishing impacts of environmental regulations can be observed in records of U.S. unemployment rates. The massive and ubiquitous tangle of U.S. environmental regulations began to expand from the federal government level in the 1970s. Today, environmental regulations and their attendant mob of bureaucrats at local, state and federal governments cost us about 5% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Environmental regulations have also become a free-for-all of eco-group propaganda and gratuitous litigation. Rules are issued by green-obsessed government do-gooders without mention of long term costs, unemployment or proof of actual environmental benefits.

    Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) records of U.S. unemployment data, the impact of U.S. environmental regulations upon unemployment can be seen in the 30 years before, and after, the 1970 enviro-policy explosions:
    • The average U.S. unemployment rate from 1940 (excluding WWII) to 1970 was 4.5%;
    • The average U.S. unemployment rate from 1970 to 2000 was 6%;
    • As environmental regulations expanded after 1970, 30-year average unemployment increased by 33.3%.

    California voters can delay the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) by voting for Prop. 23 on November 2nd. Prop. 23 would suspend implementation of AB 32 greenhouse gas controls until the state’s unemployment rate is reduced to below an unemployment rate benchmark of 5.5%.

    California’s Prop. 23 benchmarking of future environmental regulations to economic performance (recovery) should be a model for U.S. Government environmental regulations. The “new” U.S. Congress should pass legislation to suspend all pending and future environmental regulations until U.S. unemployment recovers to the post-1970 average of 6.5%. The U.S., and each state, must reset the reckless pace of environmental regulation to an economic benchmark. The so-called ”new green economy” is a green fantasy that should not be a national (or state) priority.

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  4. Erich Kather
    Erich Kather 3 October, 2010, 19:36

    C,mon! When is any (significant-i.e. well known) politician/public figure/candidate going to step up and challenge this stuff? It’s totally nuts. The claims of the “environmentalists” (read anti-people whackos) are extremely dubious and unsupported my much at all. It boils down to the rest of us vs. people haters.

    Reply this comment
  5. Michael Fitzgerald
    Michael Fitzgerald 4 October, 2010, 07:42

    Josef Goebbels espoused the Big Lie, and you would do well to remember how it works when writing about the Valley, about which you obviously know little. To put it simply, the Delta is dying. The most wondrous estuary in the Western Americas is collasping because too much water is being taken from it by Big Ag and those gleaming cities of Southern California to which you allude. The “bait fiish” you callously deride is merely a canary in the coal mine for the Delta’s systemic collapse. This is not a case of environmental excess but a belated recognition by a conservative judge that a mass extinction is immiment. In the future, please try to look beyond your ideological hatred of people trying to save the planet from the powerful and greedy and dig out a more balanced and accurate picture.

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