California WaterFix

A federal spending bill containing a provision that could spell disaster for opponents of the California WaterFix project passed an important hurdle when it was approved by the House Committee on Appropriations last week.

The Fiscal Year 2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, introduced by Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42), includes a rider identified as Section 437. If approved, the rider on page 141 of a 142-page document will exempt the California WaterFix project from state and federal judicial review. Since the spending bill’s introduction, another rider, authored by Congressman David Valadao (CA-21), was added that would also exempt the Central Valley Project and State Water Project from judicial review. 

Upon its introduction, the bill drew sharp criticism from a variety of tunnel critics on the state and national levels.

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay) expressed outrage at the proposed legislation and in a Faceook post called it an “attempted end run around states’ rights.” Frazier sent a letter to senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, stating that more than 20 court cases already filed would be negated, and urged them to oppose the rider. (See the full text of the letter here: https://bit.ly/2JAJ5nz.) 

In an email to The Press on Tuesday, June 12, Tyrone Gayle, press secretary for Harris said, “Senator Harris is opposed to any efforts to subvert California’s rights and waive federal environmental laws through the elimination of judicial review. If this legislation advanced to the Senate, Senator Harris would want that provision stripped before its consideration.”

If the bill is passed in its current form, project opponents will be denied an important tool in their fight to prevent the construction of the tunnels. 

 “This is another attempt to force the ill-conceived tunnels proposal on Californians and undermine state and federal law – specifically those concerning the protection of our environment,” said Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-9) in a press release. “Prohibiting the option for judicial review of the WaterFix environmental impact studies would eliminate a critical check in our system and help clear a path for the tunnels to proceed without further oversight. This provision has no place in a crucial funding bill and was dropped in as a last-ditch effort to circumvent the voices of Californians throughout the state who have said ‘no’ to the disastrous tunnels plan.”

In an email to The Press, Calvert said that the project has already undergone more than a decade of analysis and review. Further, he expressed concern that, given the volume of environmental documents, “environmental obstructionists” could keep the project tied up in the courts into the foreseeable future. 

“Few infrastructure projects in the history of our nation have gone through as much scrutiny as the California WaterFix,” said Calvert. “After more than a decade of studies and more than 50,000 pages of environmental documents, all of the project’s stakeholders have had a plethora of opportunities to express their thoughts and concerns. The tough decisions about the California WaterFix have been made by Gov. Brown, democrat and republican legislators, and a host of water officials, and now we must move forward with the project. It’s long past time to give Californians the reliable water system they deserve.”

Feinstein made her opposition to the rider known when she penned a letter to members of the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, a copy of which was provided to The Press. 

She said, in part, “There are important questions with a profound impact on the future of my state, and the answers of the project’s proponents should be tested to the full standards of our environmental law and by our independent judiciary. I urge you to reject the provision that would waive all federal and state laws for the WaterFix.”

Meanwhile, Calvert fired back at critics in a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times. 

“...the language in my bill is indeed intended to blow up the roadblocks built by radical environmentalists who desperately want to kill a project that will provide a clean, reliable water supply for 25 million Californians,” wrote Calvert in his letter.

Last week, a consortium of 10 environmental groups sent a letter to Attorney General Xavier Becerra in which they said that it was the “height of hypocrisy” to simultaneously tout the tunnels project as beneficial to the environment while eliminating the opportunity for judicial review.

“Delta communities and the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary deserve equal protection under the law,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta and a signee of the letter to Becerra. “These blatant attempts to thwart those protections are unconstitutional and immoral.”

The bill will next move to the House for a vote. If it passes, it will move to the Senate where it will likely face strong opposition from Feinstein, the ranking minority member of the Appropriations Committee subcommittee on energy and water.

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