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September 02, 2009

WSJ: California Drought is the Fault of the EPA...and Lawyers

Unexpected and undesirable consquences are native to the environmental movement. The millions of deaths as a consequence of the DDT ban are just the beginning. Consider higher food prices—and as a result, less food—in third world countries because of evironmentalists' irrational fear of genemod crops and pesticides.

In fact, so patent are the often horrifying natural consequences of evironmentalist policies that many suspect they aren't actually undesired by their proponents. I'm trying to give the EPA the benefit of the doubt when it comes to diverting water from a drought-plagued state, but it's difficult in the face of the history of the environmental movement:

The state's water emergency is unfolding thanks to the latest mishandling of the Endangered Species Act. Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued what is known as a "biological opinion" imposing water reductions on the San Joaquin Valley and environs to safeguard the federally protected hypomesus transpacificus, a.k.a., the delta smelt. As a result, tens of billions of gallons of water from mountains east and north of Sacramento have been channelled away from farmers and into the ocean, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres of arable land fallow or scorched.

For this, Californians can thank the usual environmental suspects, er, lawyers. Last year's government ruling was the result of a 2006 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other outfits objecting to increased water pumping in the smelt vicinity. In June, things got even dustier when the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that local salmon and steelhead also needed to be defended from the valley's water pumps. Those additional restrictions will begin to effect pumping operations next year.

The result has already been devastating for the state's farm economy. In the inland areas affected by the court-ordered water restrictions, the jobless rate has hit 14.3%, with some farming towns like Mendota seeing unemployment numbers near 40%. Statewide, the rate reached 11.6% in July, higher than it has been in 30 years. In August, 50 mayors from the San Joaquin Valley signed a letter asking President Obama to observe the impact of the draconian water rules firsthand.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he "doesn't have the authority to turn on the pumps" that would supply the delta with water, or "otherwise, they would be on." He did, however, have the ability to request intervention from the Department of Interior. Under a provision added to the Endangered Species Act in 1978 after the snail darter fiasco, a panel of seven cabinet officials known as a "God Squad" is able to intercede in economic emergencies, such as the one now parching California farmers. Despite a petition with more than 12,000 signers, Mr. Schwarzenegger has refused that remedy.

Plenty more at the link.

I will mention, however, that the stab at lawyers made by the editors is unfair, populist tripe. Those lawyers were paid by somebody; they didn't just spring fully-formed out of the ground and decide to sue to save the snail darter. In fact, the editorial notes in the very next sentence that the NRDC put the lawsuit together. The tendency to blame some amorphous group—lawyers, here—when there are actual villains on the scene is just lazy cheerleading.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 11:16 AM

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