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Oil vs. environmentalists: A fight within the Democratic family

Democrat-on-Democrat races for Legislature aren’t the norm

Oil companies are supporting business-friendly candidates

Environmentalist Tom Steyer is weighing in with his own money

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has made a TV ad that criticizes Republican presidential candidates' positions on climate change and encourages people to vote.


Special interests have come to play in the Bay Area.

In a one-minute radio ad airing in the 15th Senate District, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer says, “The big oil companies will stop at nothing to protect their profits.”

Steyer warns listeners that the industry is spending heavily to knock Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, out of office. “Why?” Steyer asks. “Because Jim Beall voted for clean energy.”

Beall’s challenger, Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, casts Steyer’s involvement as an opportunity for the wealthy businessman to “purchase a new toy and experiment with his theories.” The voters care about jobs, health care and quality education, she said.

“We didn’t all start at Phillips Exeter Academy,” she said, mocking Steyer’s privileged upbringing.

The public jabs are part of a multimillion-dollar election battle between oil interests and environmentalists backing Democrats on opposite ends of the party’s political spectrum.

Chevron, Valero, Tesoro and California Resources Corp. have given nearly $6.9 million since mid-2015 to three independent expenditure committees that support business-friendly candidates. Thus far, the committees have spent $1.4 million on three unusual intraparty races with incumbents facing opponents in re-election bids.


Nearly 400 miles south of San Jose, a 20-foot-wide mobile billboard travels along San Bernardino streets with an image of a polluted sky over a packed roadway and Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown’s name on a replica of Chevron’s logo.

A coalition of labor unions and environmental groups who support newcomer Eloise Reyes, Brown’s challenger in the 47th District, paid for the ad and dreamed up an unflattering “Chevron Cheryl” moniker. Environmental groups were outraged when an oil-funded mailer cast her as an environmental champion “for us all.”

Oil-funded committees have spent $873,490 to support Brown in the 47th Assembly District. Campos, who is taking on Beall in San Jose, is benefiting from $339,347 in independent spending from oil-backed groups. The interests also have spent $187,439 to boost Raul Bocanegra, who is working to unseat Assemblywoman Patty Lopez in the 39th District.

Steyer and other environmentalists say the oil companies are retaliating against Democrats who voted for a host of climate change laws last year. The biggest fight occurred over Senate Bill 350, which originally sought to cut petroleum use in half, increase the electricity California derives from wind, solar and other renewable sources to 50 percent, and require the state to double the energy efficiency of buildings over time.

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PG&E accuses prosecutors of deceptions in San Bruno blast probe

By Bob Egelko

May 25, 2016 Updated: May 25, 2016 3:54pm

  1. pastedGraphic.pdf

Photo: Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2010, file photo, a massive fire following a pipeline explosion roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif. PG&E is charged with 12 violations of federal laws that require operators of gas pipelines to maintain accurate records, identify risks to lines and inspect or test when pipe pressures exceed the legal maximum. It is also charged with obstructing the investigation into the blast that resulted in the deaths of eight people and the destruction of 38 homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., charged with criminal violations of pipeline safety laws in the wake of the deadly San Bruno gas explosion, is accusing federal prosecutors of lying and concealing evidence showing that federal investigators were also part of a state probe of the blast that gave them direct access to the utility’s records.

The alleged deceptions allowed prosecutors to obtain evidence without court approval and mislead the grand jury that indicted PG&E in 2014, lawyers for the utility said in a court filing late Tuesday. They asked a federal judge to exclude a large amount of “tainted” evidence and to consider dismissing some or all of the 13 felony charges.

“These misrepresentations have harmed the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” the utility’s lawyers said.

Jury selection June 14

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Edison, regulators, cooperated on subpoena

CPUC worked with utility on legal strategy during San Onofre investigation

By Jeff McDonald | 9 p.m. May 25, 2016

  1. 0


A Mitsubishi replacement steam generator installed at the San Onofre nuclear plant. — Southern California Edison

Even as it was preparing to review a $4.7 billion deal settling costs for the failed San Onofre nuclear plant, the California Public Utilities Commission was working behind the scenes to draft and send subpoenas on behalf of plant owner Southern California Edison.

The legal demands for reams of technical documents and information were sent to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Japanese maker of replacement steam generators that brought down the twin reactors housed in domes on San Diego County’s north coast.

The close cooperation came as the commission was investigating the role of the utility and its vendor in the failure at the plant, raising the question of whether it was truly impartial.

Latest: CPUC

Records obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune show commission lawyers started their process with subpoenas drafted by Edison and repeatedly sought and received direction from the utility, collaborating on legal efforts.

“I understand … that you want to coordinate mailing of your subpoenas with ours so that we can synergize?” commission lawyer Elizabeth Dorman wrote to Edison’s attorney on March 12, 2014.

Later that day, she wrote, “Would you prefer that we send our subpoena ASAP rather than wait for you to finalize yours?”

The next day, Dorman asked the utility company for advice on how long Mitsubishi should be given to respond to the subpoena.

“30 days?” the Edison attorney suggested.

“That’s what I was thinking,” Dorman replied. “They can complain to the judge if they want more time.”

Later that month, a settlement deal was announced assigning ratepayers, not the utility companies, to pay 70 percent of the costs for the premature plant shutdown.

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Power plant proposals for Southern California spark an energy debate


May 25, 2016, 3:09 p.m.

A new wave of natural gas power plants planned for Southern California has stoked a high-stakes debate about how best to keep the lights on throughout the region.

Green groups believe renewable energy has received short shrift by utilities proposing these facilities from Carlsbad to Oxnard. But operators of the state’s electrical grid have warned that maintaining a stable power supply requires a delicate mix of energy sources — including fossil fuels.

The biggest showdown of late centers on an envisioned gas-fired facility in seaside Carlsbad, which advocates of renewable energy are trying to block. If a state appellate court agrees to hear the case, the granting of judicial review could encourage similar challenges against at least four other projects in Southern California.

If the court denies the request for review, it would help cement the construction of fossil fuel power plants slated to operate for decades.

“They’re selling a myth about what we must do to go green and clean that rewards the usual suspects with multibillion-dollar projects and a guaranteed profit,” said Bill Powers, a mechanical engineer who serves on the board of Protect Our Communities, a nonprofit fighting a number of proposed gas-fired plants.

“The state’s energy strategy is a rapid transition to clean energy … and that is completely doable with rooftop solar, with battery power, and it’s completely doable in a cost-effective way without some gas-fired transition,” said Powers, a former consultant for the energy industry.

Officials with San Diego Gas & Electric, which would buy power from the Carlsbad plant, disagreed that new natural gas projects should be eliminated. The utility said the fuel is a necessary complement to alternatives such as green power and battery storage — a strategy of diversification also pursued by the region’s other large utilities.

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In battle over new Canadian pipeline, it’s Trudeau vs. tribes

By Melissa Cronin on May 24, 2016

The ghost of the Keystone XL pipeline is hovering over every new fossil fuel project — and it’s haunting the Canadian prime minister’s office.

In the latest action against new Canadian oil and gas infrastructure, a coalition of First Nations groups publicly asserted their right to block the construction of pipelines that cross their land — and informed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that they fully intend to do just that. Led by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the group’s assertion follows a legal challenge that North Vancouver’s Tsleil-Waututh Nation filed earlier this month, which argued that the government has not sought proper consent for development projects on their lands.

In response to the tribes’ announcement, Trudeau told Reuters, “Well, communities grant permission. Does that mean you have to have unanimous support from every community? Absolutely not.”



It’s not the first time Trudeau has found himself caught in the middle of Canadian pipeline politics. Aboriginal objection is a growing element of the “Keystone-ization” of fossil fuel infrastructure in Canada. The term for the spread of opposition to major oil and gas infrastructure projects takes its name from the failed TransCanada Keystone XL project, which President Barack Obama vetoed last February.

A fitting example of Canadian Keystone-ization is Enbridge Inc.’s ever-delayed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would export diluted bitumen from northern oil sands to Asian markets, and has been blocked for years by both aboriginal and climate activists. Another is TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, which has been tied up with opposition lawsuits since 2013.

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Colorado and nation face 70,000-ton nuclear waste burden

The government has paid utilities $4 billion as court-ordered compensation for storing nuclear waste


May 24, 2016 |

The federal government stepped up efforts to deal with the nation’s growing, heavily guarded stockpiles of nuclear waste Tuesday, convening westerners in Denver to search for a path to a locally accepted site somewhere for deep burial.

That radioactive waste — 70,000 tons, increasing by 2,000 tons a year — comes from nuclear power plants that provide one-fifth of the electricity Americans use, twice the share the wind power industry expects to provide by 2020.  More nuclear waste comes from nuclear weapons. Decades of failure to find a central disposal site has backed up spent fuel at 99 commercial plants and 14 shut-down plants, including Fort St. Vrain north of Denver, and forced the government to pay utilities $4 billion as court-ordered compensation.


The Fort St. Vrain plant, closed as a nuclear facility in 1989 because of operational problems, was reopened in 2001 as a natural-gas-fired power plant.

Denver Post file

“It makes sense to deal with this now instead of kicking the can down the road,” acting Assistant Energy Secretary John Kotek said in an interview before Tuesday’s session.

“At a minimum, it is about responsibly dealing with waste that was generated for our benefit. We’ve benefited from the electricity. We benefited from the nuclear deterrence.”

U.S. officials are acting as China and other nations construct nuclear plants as a cleaner source of energy to meet obligations under the International Climate Change Treaty. Nuclear plants don’t emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that scientists blame for global warming.  A new U.S. plant is nearly complete in Tennessee. Four more are planned in Georgia and South Carolina.

The Department of Energy is providing $40 million to spur efforts to design smaller “modular nuclear reactors” that could provide greenhouse gas-free electricity with less risk of the nuclear disasters seen in Japan, Chernobyl and at Three-Mile Island.

Other nations relying heavily on nuclear energy, such as Sweden and Finland, also are working toward deep burial of radioactive nuclear waste, a task for which the United States has stashed $30 billion.

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Pipeline at Center of Altamont Pass Oil Spill Also Ruptured Last September


(Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

By Ted Goldberg

MAY 24, 2016

California’s fire marshal has launched an investigation into an oil pipeline rupture that spilled at least 20,000 gallons of crude near Tracy over the weekend — eight months after the same pipeline had a break in a similar location.

Shell Pipeline crews are still cleaning up from the most recent spill near Interstate 580 and the border between Alameda and San Joaquin counties four days after the 24-inch diameter line broke.

Crews with the oil giant were able to complete repairs on the pipe on Monday, according to a Shell official.

The pipeline stretches from Coalinga in Fresno County to Martinez.

The rupture on the line was first reported at 3 a.m. on Friday, said Lisa Medina, an environmental specialist at the San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department.

Shell discovered a loss of pressure in the pipeline, filed a report with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and then shut the line down.

San Joaquin County officials believe the spill covered an area 250 feet long by 40 feet wide, Medina said in an interview.

A preliminary test of the pipeline found a split of approximately 18 to 20 inches in length, said company spokesman Ray Fisher in an email.

Fisher also confirmed that the same pipeline ruptured and caused an oil spill in the same vicinity, near West Patterson Pass Road, last Sept. 17.

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County to ask court for referee in SoCalGas Co. clash


By Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service

POSTED: 05/24/16, 4:00 PM PDT |

LOS ANGELES >> The county plans to request a court-ordered referee to help manage its contentious relationship with Southern California Gas Co. as both sides work to get Porter Ranch residents back into their homes, the county’s lead lawyer said today.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich expressed frustration on behalf of residents who say they aren’t being reimbursed on a timely basis for hotel stays, meals and mileage incurred as a result of the Aliso Canyon gas leak.

Antonovich read a letter from a resident who said her family of five was owed more than $23,000 by the utility.

“Twice when I tried to buy food for our family, my credit card was declined. Can I tell you how embarrassing that was and the anxiety as a mother not knowing how I’m going to feed my family?’’ the woman wrote. “Our credit cards are maxed out due to the costs of relocation we have had to incur with no reimbursement from the Southern California Gas Co. in two months.’’

A SoCalGas Co. representative said the company – which has provided temporary housing to an estimated 8,000 residents as a result of the natural gas leak – was working to identify the family mentioned by Antonovich.

“Over the past several months, our dedicated employees, many of whom live in Porter Ranch, have processed more than 43,330 reimbursements totaling $78.6 (million). SoCalGas will continue to work quickly to process reimbursements,” the utility said in a statement.

The Gas Co. rep said the county asked a judge Friday to appoint a mediator and the request was not granted.

But County Counsel Mary Wickham said she would ask again.

“Our plan again is to go into court this week and ask the judge to appoint a referee or a mediator so that there’s a mechanism in place that the residents of Porter Ranch can reach out to and follow to ensure that they are reimbursed for the out-of-pocket expenses they’ve incurred,” Wickham said.

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California PUC Proposes Long-Overdue Reform on SGIP Subsidy


Michael Picker’s CPUC finally addresses some glaring flaws in the lucrative incentive program. Good news for energy storage, bad news for Bloom.

by Eric Wesoff

May 23, 2016


Last week, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker issued a proposed decision (PDF) that would make long-overdue reforms to California's Self-Generation Incentive Program.

The SGIP is a crucial but less-than-ideally-structured and questionably administered renewables subsidy.

The $77 million per year program provides a generous subsidy to distributed energy resources such as CHP, wind, advanced energy storage and fuel cells. It was intended "to provide incentives for any distributed generation resources that the commission determines will support the state's goals for reductions of emission of greenhouse gases."

The program is the mainstay of more than a few storage and fuel cell firms.

But the program has experienced some glitches with its first-come, first-served awards method, as well as some tensions over the issue of exactly which distributed energy resources should qualify for the incentive. As GTM has reported, Stem was able to secure the first 56 applications in the most recent solicitation while monopolizing the online submission process for its behind-the-meter storage. Historically, Bloom Energy's fuel cells have won a seemingly disproportionate share of the funds, highlighting yet another irregularity of the program.

Here are Picker's proposed changes:

  • Reserving 75 percent of program dollars for energy storage projects. Law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR) reports, "Generation is allocated the remaining 25 percent, with 10 percent carved out for renewable generation projects."
  • Making all of the incentive money available on a continuous basis in a declining incentive "step" structure, akin to the California Solar Initiative
  • Replacing the first-come, first-served system with a lottery in which projects having additional greenhouse gas/grid benefits are assigned priority
  • Restricting each project developer to a cap of 20 percent of the incentive budget, rather than the previous 40 percent cap that applied to equipment builders
  • Requiring natural gas-powered products to use an increasing proportion of bio-gas

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How Renewables Are Competing in the Wholesale Market Without Mandates


“We’re now seeing large amounts of solar in markets where we weren’t seeing it before, such as Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon and Mississippi.”

by Amy Gahran

May 24, 2016

State renewable portfolio standards have long been the top driver of U.S. utility-scale solar and wind energy growth -- until now.

This year, for the first time ever, more than half of new utility-scale solar capacity will be brought on-line outside of state mandates. In fact, this year’s non-RPS solar capacity will exceed the total utility-scale solar installed in any previous year.

But that doesn’t mean policy is becoming irrelevant. It’s just evolving.

“This definitely doesn’t put government and policy out of the picture as key drivers of renewable energy growth,” said Barbara Sands, a renewable energy expert at PA Consulting. “Not by a long shot.”

For instance, in December 2015, Congress passed a three-year extension of the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit for solar, as well as a one-year extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind. Both of these government incentives are slated to ramp down in subsequent years -- but for now, developers are hurrying to cash in on peak incentive levels.

The ITC extension has sparked a sharp increase in several types of non-RPS utility-scale solar procurement -- a rush that’s expected to last until 2020, as utilities and other organizations seek to lock in low energy costs through long-term power-purchase agreements. Along with the continuing overall decline in the price of solar, the ITC extension has put prices for power-purchase agreements in the range of $30 to $60 per megawatt-hour -- a substantial hedge against long-term uncertainty in natural-gas prices.

A new Greentech Media report, The Next Wave of U.S Utility Solar Procurement Beyond the RPS, details how this incentive-driven economic advantage is leading more utilities to procure and own solar facilities well beyond state mandates, especially among smaller municipal utilities and cooperatives. It’s also enabling more solar projects to become qualifying facilities under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

But utilities aren’t the only market for utility-scale solar. Retail procurement is also growing sharply as large corporations and organizations procure solar resources for their own direct use, to save money, enhance energy security and resilience, and hedge against rising energy delivery charges. Some companies, like First Solar, have experimented with merchant solar -- but are finding it economically difficult in an era of cheap natural gas.

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Get ready to save energy like you save water

Martha C. Daniel May 24, 03:54 PM

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 30: The sun shines over towers carrying electical lines August 30, 2007 in South San Francisco, California. With temperatures over 100 degrees in many parts of the state, the California Independent System Operator, which manages most of the California electricity grid, is planning on declaring a minor power emergency later in the day, followed by a Stage 2 power alert during the late afternoon, indicating that power reserves have fallen below five percent. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES


Citing the threat of brown-outs this summer, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors urged Southern California residents to conserve electricity this summer and be prepared for possible 100-degree days without air conditioning.

The five-member board voted Tuesday to launch a countywide education campaign to prepare residents in the case Southern California's power plants don't have enough electricity to serve the entire region during peak summer days.

Those plants often rely on natural gas to power their facilities, and natural gas may be in short supply this summer if the massive natural gas facility in Aliso Canyon gas remains offline. The facility, which is run by Southern California Gas Company, has been out of operation since a well blowout last year. The ensuing four-month gas leak caused many Porter Ranch residents to temporarily relocate. The leak was plugged in February, but the facility remains closed while all of the gas wells on site are tested for safety.

Supervisor Hilda Solis, who championed the county conservation action, said power companies that depend on natural gas from Aliso Canyon serve 11 million customers in the L.A. region.

Four energy agencies, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, recently prepared a technical assessment on their energy needs this summer. They found that Angelenos could see as many as 14 days of electricity interruption during the summer months.

Solis is asking for local governments across Los Angeles County to educate their residents on energy conservation to avoid brownouts. She particularly wants them to focus outreach efforts on vulnerable populations who might not have the same access to information.

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Orange Button: A New Data Standard for Cheaper Solar?


How a new DOE program could shave solar costs by standardizing financial and performance data

by Jeff St. John

May 25, 2016

The Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative, launched in 2012 to achieve solar PV costs of $1 per watt, doesn't just concentrate on driving down costs of solar panels and other hardware. Nearly two-thirds of the cost of solar projects come from “soft costs,” such as customer acquisition, permitting and labor.

And then there’s the underappreciated cost of managing the financial risk of solar projects, a process that relies on data. Unfortunately for the solar industry, the data involved in this process doesn’t come in any kind of standardized format, a fact that can add uncertainty, time and cost to every step of this process.

This makes data standardization a worthwhile target of the SunShot initiative. Last month, DOE announced $4 million in grants to develop data interoperability, in the form of the Orange Button initiative. Named after other government-led data standardization projects, like the Blue Button for medical data, and the Green Button for utility and customer energy data, Orange Button aims to bring order to a chaotic and opaque body of solar project data.

“If you’re an investor and you want to increase your allocation to renewable energy, you need to work with your financial institution” to collect the data to justify that investment, said Aaron Smallwood, director of technology operations at the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP). “You need to know how the asset is going to perform, how it’s going to look on the balance sheet, what the risk premium is you need to attach to it.”

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Top 10 Developers Account for Just 42% of US Commercial Solar Market


GTM Research identifies opportunities for the long tail of commercial installers.

by Mike Munsell

May 23, 2016


According to GTM Research’s latest report, U.S. Commercial Solar Landscape 2016-2020, the top 10 developers account for just 42 percent of the U.S. commercial solar market. This contrasts with the much more consolidated residential market, where the top three companies installed nearly half of the segment’s total in 2015.

“The fragmented commercial developer landscape is largely the result of bottlenecks in the customer origination process that make it difficult for any individual player to consistently grow,” according to Senior Solar Analyst and report author Nicole Litvak. “There are therefore no dominant players driving the overall market growth, as SolarCity does in residential.”

Source: U.S. Commercial Solar Landscape 2016-2020

This isn’t to say that there aren’t large players in the market. The report highlights 13 of the leading national commercial solar developers and identifies a number of common criteria for their success. These include an emphasis on originating large deals for Fortune 500 customers, a captive source of low-cost capital, and the ability to offer ancillary products and services such as energy storage.

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Welcome to California water wars’: State’s congressional delegation debates water plans on the House floor


May 24, 2016, 6:36 p.m.

6:34 P.M. Sarah D. Wire

Tomas Garcia has been without running water for the last two years. He gets by with a water tank in his frontyard. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

House Republicans are making another push for a bill addressing California's drought, adding the text of a measure by Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) to two pieces of legislation headed to the Senate.

The House passed Valadao's bill almost a year ago, but the Senate has refused to take it up. His legislation focuses on funneling more water to San Joaquin Valley growers by reducing the amount used to support endangered fish populations.

The Senate is reviewing a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as part of a broad package of water bills for Western states.

Including the text of Valadao's bill in either measure would force the two chambers to reconcile the versions of the bill.

On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats from Caifornia's 53-member House delegation lined up to debate the inclusion of Valadao's measure in the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal 2017.

The White House signaled this week that Valadao's water legislation would prompt a veto of the appropriations bill if it reached his desk.

The House also will vote to include the language in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016.

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Conflicts swirl around San Joaquin Valley irrigation drainage plan

MAY 24, 2016 2:44 PM

Deal unites Westlands Water District and the Obama administration

Feds relieved of duty to provide drainage, districts relieved of their debt

Northern California Democrats and some Delta-area water districts are skeptical


Westlands Water District General Manager Thomas Birmingham, following a House panel hearing on a proposed irrigation drainage deal. Michael Doyle McClatchy



    A proposal to solve a long-running San Joaquin Valley irrigation drainage dispute between the Westlands Water District and the federal government is roiling a Congress already hung up on other California water fights.

    The further complications surfaced Tuesday at a House of Representatives hearing that illuminated how the drainage proposal pits one California region against another even as, for a change, it unites Westlands with the Obama administration.

    “We need to solve this problem,” Westlands Water District General Manager Thomas Birmingham told lawmakers. “It is a problem that has festered for more than 35 years.”

    Skeptics, though, blast the irrigation drainage proposal as unbalanced and unwise.

    “There are red flags and smoking guns all over this subject matter,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. “The interests of the Westlands Water District are being elevated above the interests of taxpayers, the interests of the environment and the interests of other water users.”

    Underscoring the difficulties ahead, Interior Department senior adviser John C. Bezdek revealed that the agency’s Office of Inspector General is “currently involved in an investigation” that touches somehow on three other smaller water districts north of Westlands.


    Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

    Bezdek provided no additional details of the investigation, other than to add that it does not involve Westlands. But he said that as a result the Obama administration was not yet taking a position on related irrigation-drainage legislation affecting the so-called “northerly districts.”

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