The Central Valley regional Water Quality Control Board is set to approve a deal between regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. on Nov. 29 that would “grant the world’s largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations – and for future offenses.” (1)
How did this happen? We can only guess.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Hilmar Cheese founder, Chuck Ahlem, to the state Department of Food and Agriculture in January 2004, apparently under the apprehension Ahlem was an “environmental” dairyman. (2) When the Sacramento Bee broke the story this year that Hilmar Cheese – far from being an icon of environmentalism – had been cited by this same board numerous times for water quality violations and, somehow, nothing had been done about them. Exposed, Ahlem resigned from the CDFA and the water quality board fined the cheese company $4 million. Some in the Valley thought the fine made a good press release.
After a plan was announced two months ago that Hilmar would inject its wastewater thousands of feet down, to loud public disbelief and derision, the story quieted down and went behind closed doors. Meanwhile, it was discovered the board needed some new members and the governor appointed them. There were six vacancies on the nine-member board that needed immediate attention from the governor. Five are mentioned on the water board’s website:
His appointments are:
Linda Adams, 56, of Sacramento, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She most recently served as chief of staff to the state controller from 2004 to 2005. Previously, Adams was a member of the California Performance Review, director of the Department of Water Resources, legislative secretary and chief deputy legislative secretary to the governor and principal consultant to the Senate Agriculture & Water Resources Committee. She is a member of the board of directors of the Sacramento Local Conservation Corps. Adams is a Democrat.
Paul Betancourt, 46, of Kerman, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He has been managing partner of VF Farms since 1983, a family farming operation. Betancourt also writes a monthly column on agriculture and urban issues for the Fresno Business Journal. He is a member of the Kerman Unified School Board, Fresno County Farm Bureau, Valley Clean Air Now Board and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District-Community Advisory Committee. Betancourt is a Republican.
Kate Hart, 34, of Granite Bay, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as associate attorney with Trainor Robertson since 2004. Previously, Hart served as associate attorney with Reed Smith and Woods and Daube. She is a member of Trout Unlimited and CalTrout. Hart is a Republican. On 11 November 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the following appointments:
Sopac Mulholland, 60, of Springville, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as the executive director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust since 2002. Mulholland was previously interim executive director for the Economic Development Corporation of Tulare County from 1998 to 1999. She is also the owner and operator of River Valley Ranch, McCarthy Creek Ranch and Quail Run Ranch. Mulholland is a former member of the Occupational and Health Standards Board. Mulholland is a Republican.
Dan Odenweller, 60, of Stockton, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He most recently served as a fishery biologist and manager in the Habitat Conservation Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries from 2001 to 2004. Odenweller previously served with the California Department of Fish and Game from 1971 to 2001, retiring as a senior fishery biologist. He is a member of the American Fisheries Society, the Sierra Club and Delta Flyfishers. Odenweller is a Republican. These positions require Senate confirmation. The compensation is $100 per diem.
Hilmar can count of local support from elected officials. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced is a member of the House Resources and Agriculture committees, and is co-author with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy of the Gut-the-ESA bill. State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas (or Merced – he can’t quite remember which) is chairman of the state Sen. Agriculture Committee. State Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, is chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, a member of Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife, and of the Assembly Select Committee on Water, Infrastructure and the Economy. Each is a beneficiary of dairy largesse through the various associations and PACs the industry generates as abundantly as it produces government commodities.
Monday, an official of the State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees the state’s regional water quality boards, wrote the Central Valley board urging it to reject this settlement.
"We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.
Three of the Republicans among the five new appointees to the Central Valley board for which we have public information would seem capable of voting for anything pro-agriculture, anti-environmental, particularly when it would help a prominent Republican dairyman, despite the decision stinking as highly as Hilmar on a bad day.
If this happens, it would remain to be seen what power the state board would have to remedy the injustice done to the people in and around Hilmar. If the executive branch, after a belated but real beginning to bring the cheese company to heel, returns to its corrupt habits under what must be considerable political pressure, a judicial approach should be sought if one is possible.
California is the nation’s top dairy state and the dairy industry is historically a powerful, rich lobby in Sacramento and Washington. Although industry pricing (including subsidies) remains an unfathomable mystery, even to most dairy producers, from time to time its lobbying enthusiasm gets exposed. The last time this happened was called the “milk-fund scandal.” It was revealed as a by-product of the Watergate investigation. (4)
(1) Don't let polluters off easy, state says...Chris Bowman
Top state water-quality enforcers on Monday blasted a proposed settlement that would grant the world's largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations - and for future offenses. The officials said the proposed deal between Central Valley regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. sets a bad precedent and offers scant justification for dropping all violations stemming from years of dumping putrid, poorly treated wastewater on open fields near its Merced County factory. In a letter Monday, the officials urged members of the state's Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board to reject the settlement, which is scheduled for the board's vote Nov. 29. "We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.