The NAS review, front groups, sanctimony.

What I first noticed about this press release from the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta is that it is really hard to read.  Seven prepositional phrases in the first sentence?  Why do you hate your readers?  Then I laughed at the loaded phrasing.  Calling the review panel “elite” within one word?  Sure, they are, but that’s a lot of brown-nosing so early on, although I suppose they don’t lay it on thick until the second sentence.  Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, have you given any thought to what you are going to do if this all backfires on you?  What if the NAS review says the Biological Opinion is solid?  That reducing pumping and increasing in-Delta flows is the best way Science  knows to protect the Smelt, although Sacramento should also treat its wastewater to a higher standard?  Then you’ll be in the same situation, but the Biological Opinion will have the backing of the “nation’s most esteemed science body” and the Sacramento region will hate you. This plan might not work out for you.

My next thought was, “Michael Boccadoro?  Who is Michael Boccadoro?”  These days it takes about two seconds to find someone with an unusual name, and look!  Here’s Michael, at the Dolphin Group.  The Dolphin Group?  I love dolphins!  Dolphins and nature!  I bet Michael loves nature.  Oh.  Huh.  Maybe not so much.  Looks like he loves Philip Morris and Altria, lying about smoking bans and creating racist attack ads.  Well, I suppose someone has to be the hired flack for a fake “ad hoc group of water users who depend on conveyance through the Delta for a large portion of their water supplies.”  While we’re poking around the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta page, I wonder who it belongs to.  Whois could probably tell me.  If you look up, you get a Laura Kistner.  She’s kinda shy; she hid her organization behind a proxy.  But a Laura Kistner works for the Dolphin Group, so I’m going to guess it is the same one.  I wonder what it costs to buy the whole package, an “ad hoc group of water users”, a spokesperson and a website for your pretend group.  How nice to have a lobbying firm that will sell the whole thing to you.

(I have to say, the Dolphin Group website cracked me up itself.  The stock photos, man.  So many beautiful white people, dressed in suits and listening attentively.  In fact, there isn’t a single non-white person in any photo.  That’s a little odd. These days we’re supposed to show token beautiful ethnic people (but not too many!) dressed in suits and listening attentively.  Why are the Dolphin Group pictures so damn white?  Because they don’t even think about the issue?  Because that’s what their clients want to see?)

While we’re on the topic of websites, it is the regret of my blogging career that I never grabbed screenshots of the fake Latino Water Coalition website (  I wish I had; the Wayback Machine doesn’t have much of it.  I meant to do a full deconstruction: militaristic grey and white template, no Spanish anywhere, thin content.  But the site is gone now.  Whois says was registered to Daniel Kahn of the California Water Association.  Hey, lobbying firms that make up fake groups of concerned citizens?  Why is your work so fucking transparent?  Don’t you owe your clients better?  Convincing looking websites?  A spokesperson’s name that takes more than two seconds to google?  Are they not paying you enough for that?)

Anyway, I have two more thoughts on the NAS review.

First, no one should forget that this was Dick Cheney’s tactic from the Klamath.  I was afraid it would set a precedent, and using it for more situations is exactly the sort of normalization I feared.  Sen. Feinstein, I don’t care what your rationalizations are.  When you do what Dick Cheney does, you aren’t acting like a Democrat.  Only the reputation of the National Academy of Sciences is protecting you now, but you risk bringing them down with you if their decision counters a Biological Opinion that already passed through two reviews.  You would think the National Academy of Sciences would refuse to be used in such a blatantly partisan way; you’d think they’d want to protect their reputation better.

Second, I know at least one person on the NAS panel is reading this, and now I’m talking directly to him.  What you are doing damages the Endangered Species Act.  You can say anything you want about Science in your head, but you are taking part in a process that weakens the ESA.  There is a legal way to challenge a Biological Opinion. That is to take it to court, where a judge decides if it is “arbitrary and capricious.”  That is the established place and level of review of a Biological Opinion, and this one has met that.  These two politically motivated NAS reviews are starting to create a new standard for biological opinions, in which they have provide the best science in the world to the satisfaction of the National Academy of Sciences.  That is never what the law has been.

Maybe you, panel member, don’t like the ESA as configured, or want to undermine the law for some reason.  In which case, this is all fine for you.  But if you believe in the Endangered Species Act and want to uphold it, you now know that you are acting in a way that hurts it.  You, personally, are actively part of breaking the ESA.  You should feel dissonance; you should reconcile your actions and your beliefs about the ESA.  If you avoid this question, you will be a smaller person.


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11 responses to “The NAS review, front groups, sanctimony.

  1. stopperipheral

    Try It looks fairly similar to the old gotwater site.

  2. stopperipheral

    I’m not trying to be rude or snarky here, but “latinowater” doesn’t strike me as the best choice of names if one should be a teensy bit worried about people being rude and snarky about fake coalitions.
    That said, what PR group was responsible for naming the faux group? “Risible Names R Us”?

  3. onthepublicrecord

    Hey thanks! Don’t know why I couldn’t track that down. Yep, looks like the old one, just a tiny bit fancier. Their domain is just registered to Latino Water. You see that, Dolphin Group? That’s how you make it just a little bit more difficult for the people poking around online to see through the false fronts.

    I should do the comparison I meant to before, holding Latinowater up next to actually Latino websites.

  4. stopperipheral

    Also, there’s these guys
    The “about us” used to be a little more transparent, and I’ve got notes stowed away somewhere about it. This current site has more bells and whistles than it used to (or at least the sound of running water-somebody tell them we’re still in a drought…), but less actual contact info than the earlier incarnation of the site.

  5. I always find it interesting when the attacks turn personal. It tells me we are being effective. It also tells me that others are afraid to debate the facts. Does it make sense to have the NAS review the Delta science. Absolutely! We should welcome any and all expertise that a qualified group of scientists can bring to the discussion. That is why Feinstein, Costa and other Congressional leaders have embraced the effort and why the Obama administration is on board. Quit hiding behind the personal attacks and debate the issues. Our efforts are comprehensive. We have done more independent environmental research than any other Delta organization. We don’t hold rallies and protests, just focus on the facts and the science.

  6. Phil

    Thank you for digging up these details.

    It is such a shame, because the National Academies used to have a reputation as being apolitical and objective. Unfortunately, that seems to be changing.

    Mr. Boccadoro, I don’t see how pointing out the fact that you are a lobbyist is an attack. It strikes me as simply outing you for what you and your firm are: beholden to corporate interests with a track record of manipulating facts.

  7. jim

    Why did NAS agree to do the review? Surely they understood they were being dragged into a political fight where there was no upside for them. They surely don’t want to become an appeals court for everyone who doesn’t like an ESA ruling. Why set the precedent?

  8. stopperipheral

    The Dolphin Group ought to be used to swimming in slightly warm water by now. Here’s more info, showing On the Public Record was actually wearing kid gloves in his comments concerning Flipper. (was Flipper a Dolphin or a Porpoise?)

  9. onthepublicrecord

    I think the scandal here is that the Dolphin Group is providing such shoddy work that a mildly interested blogger with fifteen spare minutes can look up these connections. Really, Dolphin Group, is that how you roll? Doesn’t it bother your clients? Paramount Foods has already come by for a look. Don’t you think they bought a better facade from you? Or maybe they purchased the cheap deal.

  10. Personal attacks? There is a difference between personal attacking (affairs, trips to the hair clinic, etc.) and network describing. In this instance it seems that describing a network is just good muckraking, even if it only takes fifteen minutes. That appears to be what OTPR did. Good for OTPR.

  11. Catching up on reading. What a good post. The only thing funnier than the pictures in the Dolphin Group website is the copy. “The Dolphin Group specializes in helping clients identify and fulfill their strategic public affairs objectives.” This objective is clearly to assault the ESA.