Salazar underwhelms Fresno; federal and state officials must act to convene God Squad

June 29, 2009 | By DAMIEN SCHIFF

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There is plenty of coverage of Sunday's visit by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to Fresno. Aquafornia has a nice roundup of the news stories — the problem with these stories, however, is that they fail to portray how truly uninspiring Salazar's visit was.

While the Secretary's visit was a nice gesture to those who have been hurt by California's water crisis, it was disappointing to hear how infrequently he uttered the words "Endangered Species Act" or "pumps." Salazar and his officials offered quite a bit when it came to long-term solutions (which are no doubt important), but little regarding what to do given the current crisis.

One official suggested monetary relief as a short-term remedy.  To say the crowd was not pleased with this proposal is an understatement — "We don't want welfare, we want water" responded one attendee to loud applause.

Indeed, only Washington would solve the water problem with more money, rather than the common sense solution of more water. Money is not the solution to the regulatory drought. As Rep. George Radanovich stated at yesterday's forum, "We need action now." (h/t: Merced Sun-Star)

That is where Pacific Legal Foundation comes in.  We have formally requested both President Barack Obama and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to act to convene a special federal panel – nicknamed the “God Squad” – to address California’s water emergency caused by harsh federal environmental restrictions that dramatically reduce the flow of water to millions of agricultural and urban water users.  More from our press release, including statements from PLF President Rob Rivett:

The Endangered Species Committee, nicknamed the “God Squad,” is a panel of cabinet officials that can be convened by the Secretary of the Interior, with power, in essence, to countermand Endangered Species Act (ESA) restrictions that cause excessive destruction to jobs and the economy.

The governor of an affected state may formally petition for the convening of the Committee. For this reason, PLF has sent a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger, urging him to submit a petition to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

PLF’s letter to President Obama urges him to make sure that his administration – including Secretary Salazar – acts favorably on a petition from Governor Schwarzenegger, and, indeed, that all available steps are taken to convene the Committee, to address California’s water emergency.

Over the past year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has imposed devastating cutbacks on water pumping into California’s main water system – idling farmland, causing urban communities to consider rationing, and driving up unemployment in San Joaquin Valley’s rural areas – as part of a regulatory scheme to protect the delta smelt, a small fish listed as “threatened” under the ESA.

Now, federal officials are proposing sweeping new reductions in water supplies to agricultural and urban areas, as part of a “biological opinion” relating to several species, including chinook salmon and steelhead. These further cuts in pumping and water supplies are estimated to remove an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water, the amount that is required to serve two million people annually.

“Without relief from the God Squad, the harsh enforcement of rigid environmental rules will inflict more pain and suffering in a state that is already enduring its worst unemployment in more than 60 years,” said PLF’s Rivett. “PLF calls on Governor Schwarzenegger and on the president to immediately do all in their power to ensure that the God Squad is convened as quickly as possible. California’s water emergency and economic crisis make it imperative that the God Squad be convened and responsible action be taken.”

The letters to President Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger can be found here, but we also need your help to ensure that federal and state officials receive our message loud and clear: the "God Squad" must be convened in order to achieve relief from the Endangered Species Act as soon as possible.  You can help by signing Pacific Legal Foundation's petition to President Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger — click here for the petition site where you will be able to express your support for our efforts.

For continuing updates on "God Squad" developments, visit our website and this blog.  In the meantime, we'll be attending this Wednesday's Rally for Water in Fresno (h/t: Fresno County Farm Bureau), and we hope to see you there.