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Letter to the Editor: A Friend in Need ...

... is a friend indeed!

For months I've been pointing to the corruption of California Gov. Jerry Brown, offering evidence that his reputed enlightened environmental stance, trumpeted in publications, by Democrats and some environmental organizations, is at least partly fiction, since his proclamations — mostly promises for the state's future — have, for many, effectively disguised his actual record of environmental devastation, most especially to the poorest of his constituents.

Even the supposedly astute board of the Union of Concerned Scientists asked its members to send “thanks” to the governor for his committing California — in reality committing future governors — to reduction of the state's permitted greenhouse emissions.

When I expressed to the UCS astonishment and exasperation for its ignoring the repeated, characteristic failure of the state's environmental oversight agencies to document, prevent or punish massive violations of federal and state environmental law — all of which have been exposed by the Los Angeles Times and by environmental groups — I was, of course, ignored by the super scientists.

My case, of course, is that Gov. Brown has characteristically and repeatedly declined to “faithfully execute the law” when doing so would expose, inhibit or punish the known depredations of energy companies or oil/gas conglomerates that have contributed handsomely to his election campaigns and/or to his favorite ballot measures.

Let's look at the record.

In late 2011, the governor asked the director of the Department of Conservation, Derek Chernow, to issue drilling permits faster, more readily. In a memo uncovered by the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 12, 2012), Chernow declined, explaining to the governor that to grant drilling permits without the rigorous requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency was a violation of law.

The governor then fired Chernow and deputy director Elena Miller: both were replaced. The obviously intended result was the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing throughout California, especially in Kern County where shale deposits are rich.

The massive drilling, largely unencumbered by any effective regulation, devastated the lives of many of the governor's poorest constituents, mostly Latino: school children's chronic headaches; asthma; seizures; polluted drinking and agricultural water; food crops endangered by well proximity, etc., etc.

These working-class citizens asked the governor to ban fracking, publicly begged him to visit them and see for himself what his policies had done to them. He ignored their pleas.

There followed discovery of a pattern of California oversight-agency neglect that can only reasonably be understood as directed by Gov. Brown.

The recent passage by California legislators of SB4 mandated, for the first time, that oil/gas drillers self-report certain data about their activity.

It was then revealed that, for decades, about 2,500 oil company disposal (injection) wells, often containing toxic, carcinogenic materials such as benzene, had been drilled through aquifers containing clean water used for drinking and agriculture — in violation of federal environmental law. It was also revealed that hundreds of oil company disposal pits, often unlined, containing toxic materials, had been allowed to exist without required permits.

The regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency called “shocking” the failure of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to oversee, manage, or correct the abuses of, oil/gas operators in the state. Irate state legislators wrote Governor Brown, asking that he immediately foreclose further such disposal wells. He did not reply.

In Vernon, arsenic and lead dust contamination of earth, air and water caused by Exide Technology's battery recycling plant resulted in the sickness of 15,000 of its residents. The Department of Toxic Substances Control had allowed the facility to operate for 30 years without a full permit, even as it racked up dozens of hazardous waste violations and despite voluminous complaints.

Los Angeles Times: “How was a company allowed to operate for so long with so many violations that endangered so many people?”

Chevron recycles flowback waste water from drilling operations and sells it to farmers for food-crop irrigation. An independent tester found in the water potentially carcinogenic toxins at concentrations higher than in some oil spill disaster sites. Questioned about this by the L. A. Times, the State Water Resources Control Board replied, “We leave the testing to Chevron.”

As a business mentor recently publicly advised his associate: Forgive a mistake. Punish a pattern.

Governor Brown's non-performing agencies are not a mistake, they are a pattern. But who is being punished?

For years I've felt like a John the Baptist on this issue, preaching in the wilderness. Democrats turn their faces away; Democratic legislators obviously go only so far in reprimanding a Democratic Party governor. Republicans dislike the governor but love what he's done to protect the status of oil/gas conglomerates.

But now, at long last, appears a friend in need.

As it turns out, it's none other than Bill McKibben, perhaps the most famous icon among those who've spent much of their lives alerting us to the devastation that climate change is bringing to our lives and that threatens the very existence of our species.

In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times (May 5) titled “Brown's Environmental Blind Spot,” McKibben, after giving praise to the governor's promises, writes:

“But Brown continues to support fracking in the state's oil patch, and oil production increases. … It's as if the governor banned smoking in California but turned the Central Valley over to growing tobacco.

“And even worse, fracking in a time of drought is a remarkable obscenity. … the water used in fracking is bringing up more of the oil that is raising the Earth's temperature. … it's disgusting to waste millions of gallons of water this way.

“It's not as if the oil is creating prosperity for most of the people in Kern County, either. … it's among the poorest parts of the state, with 22% of the population living below the poverty line, 69% of them within a mile of an oil well. The region has one of the highest cancer rates in the country …

“His willingness to let oil companies have their way on fracking is a serious blind spot.”

Perhaps my new friend McKibben — who, of course, doesn't know me from Adam — is not actually aware of the history of Gov. Brown's environmental “oversight” agencies who see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil regarding energy conglomerates who happen to have sent millions of dollars his way. Perhaps, though, McKibben does perceive the dirty secret, but is being tactful.

In any case, a voice more powerful than mine has at least — and at last — joined to some extent my local effort to expose what this state's governor has actually been up to.

We know California oil/gas producers are not a “blind spot.” They did not bloom and proliferate behind Gov. Brown's back. He bred them, fed them and has kept them in sharp focus. He and they have made a deal. And he's keeping it.

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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