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Earthjustice

A bill that overrides a bipartisan, court-approved settlement to restore the San Joaquin River in California was passed by the House of Representatives, despite the fact that President Obama has already pledged to veto it. The bill passed with strong Republican support and against the wishes the vast majority of California Democratic House members.

The bill called the “San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act” (H.R. 1837) is also opposed by the State of California, California’s two senators, the California Attorney General, the leaders of the California State Legislature, commercial and recreational fishing associations, environmental groups, water districts, local governments, delta farmers and others.

Among other things the bill, introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), would toss out the 2009 San Joaquin River Restoration Agreement, which was agreed to by parties in a federal court settlement in California. The bill also sets a dangerous precedent for preempting state water rights, leaving other states vulnerable to this kind of federal interference.

Farmers and fishermen, whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Bay-Delta oppose the bill because it would take water needed to grow crops and healthy salmon runs. If passed, the Representative Nunes bill would reverse efforts to restore the Bay-Delta estuary and improve the reliability California’s water supplies.

Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a trade group representing commercial salmon fishermen said, “This bill is a jobs killer for fishermen and fishing communities. It’s clear that Mr. Nunes and his fellow travelers have greased the way for a massive giveaway of a public resource to these San Joaquin Valley water profiteers.”

“The Nunes bill is a blatant attempt to boost corporate profits for some of the world's wealthiest agribusinesses and to wipe out important environmental protections that the bill’s supporters never liked,” said Marjorie Mulhall, Earthjustice associate legislative counsel. “The changes proposed by Big Ag will result in more species going extinct, including species like Pacific salmon that are critical to the economies of West Coast states.”

At stake is the largest estuary on the West Coast of North America. It is a maze of wetlands and farmlands, islands and waterways, where torrents of the Sierra Nevada mix with tides from the Pacific Ocean. It provides a haven for fish and wildlife, quenches the thirst of millions of Californians, contains thousands of acres of farmland while watering hundreds of thousands more, and nurses salmon runs that sustain fishing ports along a thousand miles of coastline.

A Bush-era water giveaway to junior water rights growers and a billionaire water-broker shattered the estuary’s delicate life balance and caused natural flows to reverse course, dragging tens of thousands of young salmon and other native fish to their deaths. Earthjustice won court victories to stop this runaway water diversion scheme—victories now under attack in Congress.

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Gulf Change

Gulf Change, a group of Gulf Coast mothers, grandmothers and concerned citizens, is calling for an immediate Congressional hearing concerning actions needed in order to address the continuing health effects of the BP Oil drilling disaster.

More than 2,400 cases of chemical poisoning have been reported across the Gulf Coast, with symptoms including headaches, respiratory illness, pulmonary issues, seizures, gastrointestinal problems, rectal bleeding, skin and eye ailments, memory loss and neurological issues.

Clean-up workers, fishermen and coastal residents have reported symptoms and proper diagnosis and care is urgently needed, particularly for children who are suffering the effects of oil and dispersant exposure.

Kindra Arnesen, resident of South Plaquemines Parish in South Louisiana describes the children's health crisis in her community:

"...we have 388 children in the local elementary school and in that school we have sick kids all over the place, they're suffering from upper respiratory infections, severe asthma, all the sudden, in kids that had nothing wrong with them before. Skin conditions, lesions in between their fingers, around their mouths. As of April 2011 we had a closet full of nebulizers to help them breath. A closet full of nebulizers for a school with 388 kids. Where's the red flag?"

A recently released video by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), highlights the health struggles of several coastal families. One mother of three, Julie Creppel, of Burras, La., estimates her son has been on antibiotics ten or eleven times in the two years since the disaster and her 12-year old daughter's health has also suffered:

"They say she's got acute sinusitis....I've had to pick her up multiple times from school since the spill. I never picked her up before. She's stayed sick and had to miss more school now than she ever has before...and her stomach, it bothers her...she swears it's killing her."

In addition to their call for an immediate Congressional hearing, Gulf Coast activists are calling for health care for effected clean-up workers and residents and for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the victim's compensation fund paid for by BP and administered by Kenneth Feinberg, to immediately pay all health-related and economic claims.

Click here and here to be a hero to children on the Gulf Coast today.

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International Rivers

Major construction on the Belo Monte Dam commenced on the Xingu River during Brazil's New Year holidays, signaling a new phase in the Brazilian government's intentions to sidestep environmental legislation and human rights conventions to build the world's third largest hydroelectric dam in the heart of the Amazon. The project's first blockades of the river, known as coffer dams, are being built to dry out a stretch of the river, allowing for its permanent damming. Local protestors paralyzed construction at the dam site Jan. 18, affirming that resistance to the project is far from over.



The protests centered on Belo Monte's Pimental work site, where protestors denounced "unprecedented crimes" of the Brazilian government against the Amazon and its people. Organized by the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre (Xingu Forever Alive Movement)—a grassroots coalition of social movements, indigenous groups, and NGOs—the protest included fishermen, farmers, students and other groups that are suffering the impacts of the Belo Monte Dam project.  



The protestors arrived at the dam site by boat, unfurling banners in front of the coffer dams with slogans such as "Belo Monte—crime of the Federal Government," blocking the movement of workers and machinery, and paralyzing construction for more than two hours. The protestors spoke peacefully with construction workers, explaining the motivations for the protest.

"Despite the criminal operations that are Belo Monte, where the Brazilian government is spending billions to devastate the Xingu while creating a situation of complete chaos among local communities, we will continue to resist this monstrosity and work to call attention of the Brazilian public and the world that this wanton destruction of the Amazon will hurt us all," said Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Vivo movement. "To take away the river is to take away the life of its people, because water is life." 


The first of three coffer dams, which are earthen walls built to dry out stretches of the river to open the way for dam construction, will connect the left bank of the Xingu to Pimental Island in the middle of the river. The Norte Energia (NESA) dam-building consortium has also begun to raze the jungle on the island after receiving authorization from the federal environmental agency IBAMA to clear cut more than 5,000 hectares of rainforest.

Local residents were not previously informed by the government-led NESA consortium of the impending construction of the coffer dams, initiated soon after the New Year. Instead, they were alerted by a Xingu River tinged with red mud and the thundering of dynamite exploding in construction areas. 


"When we learned what they were doing, it practically killed us with sadness," said Josinei Arara, a member of a threatened Arara indigenous community 10 miles downstream on the Xingu from the Pimental dam site. "The dam builders have kept none of their promises to compensate our village. In they meantime, they're assassinating our river." 



Outraged with the muddying of water they rely upon for drinking, cooking, and bathing, the Arara denounced NESA's pollution of the river to Brazil's Federal Public Ministry this week, also citing the clear deficiency of legally-mandated mitigation measures. 


If construction continues, the Belo Monte Dam complex will divert 80 percent of the Xingu River's flow into an artificial canal and reservoir, devastating a riverine ecosystem of unique beauty and biodiversity, as well as the livelihoods of three indigenous tribes and other traditional communities.

"The building of coffer dams, traversing one of the main channels of the Xingu, is already a major intervention in the riverine ecosystem," said Brent Millikan of International Rivers. "Besides destroying habitats and interfering in the river's hydrology, coffer dams create obstacles for local boat transportation and the movements of fish."

The Rousseff administration has remained obstinate in pushing ahead with Belo Monte, ignoring criticisms from scientists, legal experts, religious figures, artists and street protests throughout Brazil and the world. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, linked to the Organization of American States, was scoffed by the Brazilian government when it issued precautionary measures issued by the to ensure consultations with indigenous peoples and protection of their rights. Meanwhile the Rousseff administration has pressured judges to stall or overturn legal actions against Belo Monte, while intimidating federal public prosecutors that issued them. The Belo Monte Dam is one of the first of dozens of large dams planned for construction in the Amazon by the Brazilian government.

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