Sorry this is pretty hard to read, but Dan has done a really good job here of
wrapping up a bunch of bits and pieces and turning it into a coherent indictment
of Governor Davis enviro record to date. Thanks Dan. Looks like you've been
working on this for quite a while!
See sfgate.com for more readable version. Go to the Chronicle part of the site,
then Sunday paper.
Who's Protecting California's Environment?
Gov. Davis campaigned on the promise that he would preserve forests and fish
habitats and safeguard schools from toxics, but the Democratic governor has
done little to reverse the neglect by four Republican administrations
Sunday, November 14, 1999
c1999 San Francisco Chronicle </chronicle/info/copyright>
Most environmentalists, weary after four consecutive Republican
administrations in Sacramento, were eager to hear those words and to believe
that once in the governor's office, Davis would bring renewed commitment to
solve the environmental problems of California. But with only minor
exceptions, this has not come about.
Davis started out on the right foot with several solid appointments,
including Mary Nichols as state Resources Secretary, Tom Hannigan as
director of Water Resources and Rusty Arieas as director of Parks &
Recreation. These people had credentials with the mainstream environmental
community, and it was hoped that they would bring significant positive
changes to their respective departments. What no one foresaw was that Gov.
Davis, a renowned micro-manager, would sabotage any significant changes by
keeping them on very short leashes.
For example, one of Nichols' first official acts as Resources Secretary was
to withdraw a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Wilson administration
to block implementation of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. This
1992 law, steered through Congress by Martinez Democrat George Miller and
then-Sen. Bill Bradley aimed to create a restorative balance between
agricultural and other uses of freshwater flowing through the San Francisco
Bay and Delta. In a move that shocked environmentalists, Davis ordered
Nichols to rescind her action and then not-too-privately called her on the
carpet for acting without his direct instruction.
Davis' penchant for micro-management is being blamed for his slowness in
filling scores of key positions in his new administration. The result is
that many state regulatory agencies continue to function as if this were the
third administration of Pete Wilson. Earlier this month, Davis was
reproached for his failure in articles that ran in both The Chronicle and
the Los Angeles Times.
``Many of the enforcement decisions are still being made by Wilson
holdovers,'' said Bill Magavern of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a Los
Angeles-based organization that focuses on environmental protection and
nuclear safety. Magavern complained that polluters are still being
protected, not public health. The regional water quality control board
responsible for the sensitive Lake Tahoe area completely ceased to function
when Davis failed to appoint new members. Other boards are functioning only
because members have agreed to serve beyond the expiration dates of their
In March, Davis took what appeared to be a strong step when he imposed a
Dec. 31, 2002, deadline for the phaseout of the gasoline additive MTBE that
the governor called ``a significant threat to public health.'' At the same
time, he asked refiners to supply MTBE-free gasoline to service stations in
Lake Tahoe ``as soon as possible'' to appease a region up in arms over
losing nearly half of its drinking water to tainted wells. Six months later,
11 of 15 Tahoe stations were still selling MTBE-laced fuel.
Meanwhile, the governor pressured Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, into
dropping the 2002 deadline from his bill. Critics charged that Davis is
``flip-flopping on his promise to protect California's environment,
embarrassing the Legislature and harming his own credibility.''
One of Davis' selling points to environmentalists when he ran for governor
was his opposition, as a member of the state Lands Commission, to a proposed
radioactive waste dump in the Mojave Desert at Ward Valley. As governor
however, Davis has been agonizingly slow in reversing the pro-Ward Valley
stance of the Wilson administration. When the project seemed to implode over
the summer, Davis packed the Nuclear Waste Advisory Group with industry
executives, and commissioned the group to find a replacement site.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has raised concerns about the group's
composition and has questioned the need to locate any new nuclear waste
facility in California. One watchdog group claims that Davis has still not
given up on locating a waste dump in Ward Valley, despite overwhelming
public opposition that culminated in a 103-day occupation by
environmentalists and local Indian tribes last year.
Recently, Davis inexplicably vetoed the Healthy Schools Act, a bill that
would have required the state to study problems with air quality in portable
classrooms. There are currently more than 86,500 of these portables across
the state, housing more than a third of all California public school
Studies have shown that portables can expose children to toxic chemicals at
unacceptably high levels. The bill also called for better notification of
pesticide spraying around schools and the training of school personnel in
environmental health standards.
The governor's veto is especially hard to understand in light of recent
surveys that have identified high levels of toxic substances in California
schools, both in portables and traditional classrooms. In the governor's
hometown of Los Angeles, a $200 million high school sits half-built on top
of an abandoned oil field while seismologists try to determine the extent to
which petroleum-based toxins are leeching upward.
The governor also has been slow in overseeing the Board of Forestry, which
has long been a focal point for environmentalists concerned about
sustainable logging. Ultimately, it's the board that has to address problems
such as overharvesting, cutting on steep slopes and in unstable areas,
disruption of watersheds and water quality. Failure to address these issues
adequately has led to ongoing struggles, including civil disobedience in
places like Headwaters Forest and Jackson State Forest.
Many have charged that the board does a poor job of enforcing existing
forest-practice rules and has failed to prevent practices that lead to
property degradation and violations of clean water standards. Under Gray
Davis, the board remains a quagmire, unable to take even modest steps toward
On July 7, timber industry executives feted Davis at a reception in Anderson
(Shasta County), headquarters of timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries. The
event was held on the same day that his administration proposed stricter
regulations for timber harvesting on private lands in order to protect
rivers and wildlife.
Curiously, Davis claimed to be unaware of the new rules, even though they
had just been issued by two of his own cabinet officials! The reception was
just one of several half-policy, half-fund-raising sessions with industry
that would be a Davis trademark if Bill Clinton hadn't already perfected the
According to a recent article in Time magazine extolling him as ``the most
fearless governor in America,'' Davis has already raised $7 million for his
2002 campaign war chest, an amount that dwarfs previous first-year efforts
by any sitting governor anywhere on the planet.
Voters will ultimately have to decide whether Davis' fund-raising is skewing
his policy judgment or not. But it's clear that timber industry prerogatives
are being well tended under the guidance of his administration.
Last month, the Board of Forestry again delayed a vote on new rules to
protect coho salmon habitat, rules most conservation and fisheries
organizations already felt were too weak. The board's lack of will caused
Joe Blum, a representative of the National Marine Fisheries Service, to warn
that a listing of steelhead trout may be necessary.
Listing of steelhead as a threatened or endangered species could help
restore the coho as well, but would also devastate the sport fisheries (and
their attendant industries of fishing guides and outfitters) of Northern
California, including some relatively healthy rivers such as the Trinity and
To his credit, Davis didn't veto two measures on the March 2000 ballot that
could have significant benefit to the environment. A $1.97 billion water
bond would finance improvements in flood protection, water quality, levees
The governor also signed a $2.1 billion park bond act that would begin to
address the severe state of dilapidation in our state parks, beaches and
historical sites. However, to call allowing these measures on the ballot a
``bold step,'' as Davis did at his signing ceremony, is disingenuous if not
plain deceptive. If there is to be a bold step taken, it will be by the
state's taxpayers, not its governor.
NOT AN INNOVATOR
In the recent Time puff piece, Davis is praised for his advances in gun
control, HMO reform and education. There is no mention of the environment
whatsoever. No serious environmentalist would call this governor an
Most of the environmental bills he has signed, such as Democrat
Assemblywoman Carole Migden's bill to allow the nine regional water quality
control boards to sanction repeat offenders, have sat around the capital for
years waiting for a Democrat governor to sign them. In fact, Gray Davis has
proposed no bold steps to deal with the imminent collision of the state's
human population with its battered natural resource base.
Most environmentalists have thus far been reluctant to criticize the
governor publicly. After all, given the rapacious tilt of California's
Republican politicians on environmental issues, what choice is there? But at
least a few think it's time to take off the gloves. Ted Nordhaus, executive
director of Next Generation, an Oakland environmental consultant, is one.
``There is increasing trepidation among environmentalists that Davis isn't
very serious about protecting the state's environment,'' Nordhaus says.
Nordhaus recently surveyed leaders in the mainstream environmental community
throughout California and found that there was a general consensus that
Davis had put good people in place in state government but that ``at the
larger policy level, there hasn't been much in the way of new initiatives.''
Kathy Bailey, state Forest Conservation chairwoman for the Sierra Club, is
blunt about the administration's handling of endangered species. ``From what
we have seen in the past few months, it has become increasingly clear that
the Davis administration is not committed to saving coastal salmon (coho,
chinook and steelhead) from extinction in California. We're facing a crisis
of extinction, and the Davis administration is doing nothing.''
CRITICS MUST SPEAK UP
The governor needs to be taken to task more vigorously by the environmental
community. The stakes are too high to wait. Another three, or possibly seven
years, of Davis neglect will certainly make our challenges that much more
difficult to meet. Some environmentalists are proposing ways to go around
the governor, such as appealing directly to sympathetic ears within the
business community. While commendable, this tactic seems unlikely to yield a
high level of success. After all, business runs on the principle of the
bottom line, not the more subjective criterion of the public good. That
criterion is supposed to be the province, and indeed the purpose of
A turnaround in California's approach to its environment would be a powerful
signal to the rest of country and the world. It would also be the best gift
we could give ourselves and future generations of Californians. Based on the
evidence of nearly a year, we will have to make it happen without a great
deal of support, let alone leadership, from Gov. Davis.
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