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Governor Jerry Brown under fire for firing state oil regulators

By Dan Bacher - Elk Grove Citizen, September 6, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Jerry Brown continually attempts to portray himself as a “climate leader” and “green Governor” at environmental conferences and photo opportunities across the globe, but new court documents obtained by the Associated Press bolster the claims by many anti-fracking activists that the California Governor is in reality “Big Oil Brown.”

In these documents, two former senior level officials in California Governor Jerry Brown’s administration reveal that they were fired on November 3, 2011, one day after warning the governor that oil drilling would imperil the state’s groundwater.

In a declaration, Derek Chernow, Brown’s fired acting director of the state Department of Conservation, told the Brown Administration that granting permits to oil companies for oilfield injection wells would violate safety provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, reported Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press.

“Chernow’s declaration, obtained by The Associated Press, was contained in an Aug. 21 court filing in a lawsuit brought by a group of Central Valley farmers who allege that oil production approved by Brown’s administration has contaminated their water wells. The lawsuit also cites at least $750,000 in contributions that oil companies made within months of the firings to Brown’s campaign for a state income tax increase,” according to Knickmeyer.

You can read the full story here.

The Committee to Protect Agricultural Water filed their civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit in Federal Court on June 3, 2015. On the following day, Mark Nechodom, the controversial director of the California Department of Conservation that replaced Chernow, resigned.

The RICO Complaint by the Committee, a citizen organization comprised of Central Valley farmers and “individuals concerned about California’s drinking water,” claims that Governor Brown’s office ordered the DOGGR to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The lawsuit alleges that “The Oil Companies, Governor’s Office, Director of Conservation Mark Nechodom, State Oil & Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic, Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department Lorelei Oviatt, DOGGR, WSPA, CIPA, and others known and unknown, formed an “enterprise” (“the Enterprise”) to achieve through illegal means the goal of increasing oil production and maximizing profits and tax revenue by allowing the Oil Companies to inject salt water into fresh water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

In a memo to David Albright of the EPA obtained by AP, Elena Miller, the fired Supervisor at the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), points out how draft regulations proposed by the Brown administration – a “proposed interim solution” to the “timely issuance of individual well permits” – resembled documents created by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).

“This (referring to the draft regulations) was provided to us during a meeting at the Governor’s Office on 10/28/11 – prepared by Lianne Randolph of the CA Natural Resources Agency. I agree with your point that this has similarities to what was prepared by WSPA late September/early October,” wrote Miller.

For those not familiar with the WSPA, it is the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento. Last year the Western States Petroleum Association spent a record $8.9 million on lobbying, double what it spent in the previous year. .

The WSPA is deeply embedded in California politics. In one of the biggest conflicts of interest in recent California history, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create marine protected areas on the South Coast, as well as serving on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012. Her husband, James Boyd, also served on the California Energy Commission from 2002 to 2012 and was appointed Vice Chair in 2006.

Since 2011 the Brown administration, which has become increasingly subservient to the Western States Petroleum Association and Big Oil, has come under fire from the U.S. EPA for failing to protect groundwater under the federal law. In addition, after the two officials were fired, oil companies made at least $750,000 in contributions to Brown’s campaign to increase state taxes, according to Californians Against Fracking.

Brown’s spokesman, Evan Westrup, told the Associated Press that the allegations in the documents obtained by AP are “baseless.”

“The expectation — clearly communicated — was and always has been full compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Westrup claimed Thursday.

Anti-fracking activists disagreed with Brown administration claims that the allegations are “baseless.” Following the revelation, Californians Against Fracking issued a statement from Adam Scow, California Director for Food and Water Watch

“Gov. Jerry Brown intentionally allowed California’s groundwater to be contaminated, and subsequently accepted financial backing from the oil industry for his political efforts,” said Scow. “The cracks in Jerry Brown’s leadership on climate change, already demonstrated by his support for fracking, now go beyond hypocrisy. Firing two watchdogs in order to allow irresponsible and illegal dumping of toxic oil wastewater in California takes the state back to pay-to-play politics as usual.”

As I have documented in article after article, Jerry Brown is one of the worst governors for fish, water and the environment in California history. With his constant subservience to the oil industry, as demonstrated in this case and many others, he has definitely earned himself the nickname of “Big Oil Brown.”

The documents obtained in the RICO lawsuit reveal, once again, how the regulated have captured the regulatory apparatus in California. Just as Big Oil has captured the Department of Conservation, agribusiness tycoons, the Metropolitan Water District and the State Water Contractors have also captured the California Department of Water Resources. I will update you on this developing Brown administration scandal as more information and documents become available.