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 sustainabledelta.com, 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 (gotwater.org). 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 gotwater.org 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.