Feinstein in the News

Unusual, to be sure. But ever so necessary. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt took off the gloves and aimed a one-two combo at House Republicans and President Barack Obama on environmental issues.

Babbitt's well-rounded attack last week was richly deserved. Others should follow his example. It is time for a parade of people to stand up publicly in defense of the nation's public lands and water resources.

House Republicans, Babbitt noted, have "declared war on our land, water and natural resources."

This description is no exaggeration, as seen in the words and actions of the California House delegation, who are leaders of the extremist anti-environmental charge.

The troika of Reps. Devin Nunes of Visalia, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Jeff Denham of Atwater are sponsoring a bill, House Resolution 1837, that would radically alter water law and policy in California and upend years of progress in resolving California's water wars.

HR 1837 would explicitly repeal the two-decades-in-the-making settlement among various interests to restore fisheries and flows to the dewatered San Joaquin River. The bill also would undermine the historic bipartisan legislation in 2009 to find solutions for the Bay-Delta.

The salmon fishing industry and related businesses call HR 1837 the "Salmon Extinction Bill of 2011." They note that the bill is "not about reliability, but enriching the junior water rights holders on the west side of the San Joaquin River at the expense of farmers in other parts of the Central Valley, the California and Oregon salmon fisheries, and California and federal taxpayers."

From his perch as chairman of the House Water and Power Subcommittee, Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove held a hearing in support of this blatant water grab.

Doesn't he realize that HR 1837 is a direct attack on senior water rights holders in his district, such as the Placer and El Dorado water districts, in favor of junior water rights contractors such as the powerful Westlands Water District?

A better approach, as Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer wrote to McClintock, is "balanced, consensus-based solutions that respect the interests of all stakeholders."

McCarthy also has a bill, HR 1581, that would eviscerate the nation's ability to protect and set aside wilderness areas. It would ban future administrations from protecting wilderness, which could jeopardize several California projects, including two pushed by fellow Republicans.

For example, Republican Rep. Darrel Issa wants to add to the Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Wilderness areas in San Diego County. Republican Rep. David Dreier seeks to add wilderness in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. And Sen. Feinstein wants to expand the California Desert Protection Act.

McCarthy's bill also would eliminate wilderness study areas, including 67 mostly mountain areas in California.

The lack of balance here shows in the numbers. The Bureau of Land Management administers 250 million acres of public land. Only 9 million are designated wilderness areas. In contrast, more than 41 million acres are leased for oil and gas exploration – with less than 30 percent of that currently in production.

Surely, the nation can set aside wilderness and produce energy, too. In fact, 2010 was a banner year for oil and gas production on BLM land.

Then there's the war of words over climate change policy. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, who chairs a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, has suggested that the Obama administration should encourage clear-cutting of the world's rain forests.

"Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?" Rohrabacher asked at a May hearing.

That, of course, is unlikely to happen. While bills such as HR 1837 and HR 1581 may pass the House, they probably won't pass the Senate. The danger, however, is that such measures will be attached as "stealth riders" to must-pass bills in the current debt limit and budget negotiations.

And that is where Babbitt's criticism of Obama comes in.

He called upon the president "to lead us in standing up to the radical agenda of the House of Representatives" noting that is "something that he has not yet done in a significant way."

The House Republican anti-environmental agenda is a vast overreach. Rather than tiptoeing ever so gently, the president should push back, and, as Babbitt urged, "replace (Republicans') draconian agenda with a bold conservation vision."