Trump Admin Moves to End Protections for Endangered Fish Threatened by California’s Water Wars
The Trump administration is rolling back protections for endangered California fish species, a move long sought by a group of wealthy farmers that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt continued to lobby for months before he began working for the administration, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The new policy, released early this week by the Commerce and Interior Departments, would allow more water to be pumped from the San Francisco Bay Delta to irrigate farms. Scientists in the past have found this would harm the delta smelt and West Coast salmon species that swim in the delta, as well as the killer whales that feed on them. But the new "biological opinion" ruled that the fish would not be harmed by diverting more water to agriculture.
"The servile Interior Department has hijacked and subverted the scientific process," Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said in a statement reported by NPR.
Breaking News! Today, the USFWS & NMFS released new #EndangeredSpeciesAct biological opinions for gravely #endangered #salmon & other native fish species that are affected by massive water project operations in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. Learn more: https://t.co/pAnXCmXzXZ pic.twitter.com/QSRMKKFPEW— Defenders of Wildlife (@Defenders) October 22, 2019
Bernhardt lobbied on behalf of Westlands Water District, a group representing around 1,000 large farmers in Central California, from 2011 to 2016, including pressing Congress to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for the delta smelt, according to The New York Times. Four months after he was confirmed as Deputy Interior Secretary, he phoned the Interior official in charge of delta smelt protections and asked him to conduct a new biological opinion.
President Donald Trump also signed a memo in 2018 asking for protections to be rolled back, The Los Angeles Times reported. But in July of 2019, scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service found that pumping more water to farms would put endangered winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened spring-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley Steelhead and endangered Southern Resident killer whales at risk for extinction.
Instead of heeding this warning, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest regional director Paul Souza, who was coordinating the reviews of salmon and smelt protections, discarded the document and put a new team together to write a new report. Two documents released this week then found that the increased pumping would not harm the salmon or the delta smelt.
The administration's new plan would create hatcheries to breed fish and monitor fish populations in real time so as to slow pumping only when they are nearby, according to NPR.
"We've been able to create a much smarter approach that focuses on real-time management," Souza told NPR. "Our commitment is that we will be as, or more protective than we have been in the last 10 years."
But environmental groups say that monitoring the fish this way is difficult, especially since their populations have already plummeted. Chinook salmon have lost around 90 percent of their spawning grounds to dams.
"These new biological opinions weaken virtually every protection required by previous decisions, eliminating clear, science-based habitat protections," Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, told NPR.
The new pumping rules could go into effect by January, according to the Los Angeles Times. But environmental groups are likely to sue to block them.
The Trump administration is at it again to empower special interests with the release of new biological opinions based on junk science, threatening California #endangered species, local #CAwater supply, and thousands of jobs. https://t.co/9igJquNzhW— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC) October 22, 2019
"Given the level of political interference and the junk science that has been used ... it would be very unsurprising if these were not challenged and eventually overturned in court," Doug Obegi, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney who beat back similar changes proposed by President George W. Bush, told the Los Angeles Times.
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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