Column: A previous job by the Secretary of State Bernhardt raises questions about dealing with his former client


The Interior Department wants to know that there was no connection with the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt who belongs to one of his former lobbying clients, to the giant ash Westlands Water, permanent access to lucrative federal irrigated water supplies.

Westlands wants to know the same thing. "Mr. Bernhardt was not involved in any of the discussions" regarding the contract, Tom West, General Manager of Westlands told me. "This does not apply to David Bernhardt."

Againn We don't know if Interior is trying to deal with the Westlands family by giving them some of their debts or who knows what else. The public is kept in the dark as to how taxpayers' money will be used. ’

Doug Obegi, Council for the Protection of Natural Resources

There are many reasons to be concerned about donating a permanent water contract to Westlands' largest and most important entity. The permanent contract would provide a series of two-year contracts that ruled Westlands access to federal water in recent years, reducing the opportunity for public review.

“Water contract negotiation and renewal continued to be a mechanism for public scrutiny and ensuring that the contracts for massive public water blocks serve the public interest,” says Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael). This scrutiny is even more important, given the uncertainty of the future of California's water supply due to climate change and continued population growth.

Bernhardt fingerprints are not detectable on the Westlands contract. But the contaminated dishmas within the Inner Department is so thick that almost all of the major decisions today, even those that look innocent on the surface, are making one comb. That is why public police ethics can be so corrosive – there is nothing escaping from the stench.

The tone was laid by Bernhardt's predecessor as Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, who was dismissed among allegations of ethical abuses including favorites for business friends and colleagues and politically motivated decision-making.

The coincidence is the award of a profitable permanent water contract to former Westlands client Bernhardt? Let's explore the impact of Westlands in Washington and the benefits it brings to the contract – which facilitates law that helped Bernhardt to write as a Westlands lobbyist.

The amount involved is what taxpayers will have on the car to deal with water which will benefit some of the country's richest corporate farms, and how this proposed discussion will limit the rights of water users t Competitive in California, including fishermen and – women, industrial users, and statewide residents.

In context, you should know that Westlands is the country's largest agricultural water area, a 614,000 acre tissue extending 74 miles east of Interstate 5 west of Fresno and producing about $ 1 billion in crop per year. The largest single customer of the Central Valley Project is a federal, network of California dams, reservoirs and aqueducts launched in 1938 and managed by the Interior Reclamation Bureau.

The Westlands artefact is not entirely a Trump artefact. “As the current relationship between Westlands and Interior,” says Huffman, “they have always had a huge impact on the Reclamation Bureau, even under Democratic administrations.” T

Bernhardt's actions were examined from conflicts of interest by environmentalists and other critics, not only because of his career as a lobbyist for the interests of oil, gas and water falling within his government's jurisdiction, but because he was a major man in the Trump attack on statutes. environment such as the Endangered Species Act – a law which Bernhardt was able to go on behalf of the Inland Department on behalf of Westlands once.

There were also ongoing complaints that many Bernhardt had not made a commitment to re-use it from decisions affecting its former clients. It appears that the Department of Domestic ethics officials express the conflict of interest rules very narrowly when it relates to a number of clearly related decisions to those former clients.

As a result of the Interior Department's efforts to increase water deliveries to farm contractors in the Central Valley as Westlands at the expense of endangered species, the “accurate result (Bernhardt) on behalf of Westlands was created for years before entering government service,” ”The Laworruption Center Law Center has been noted in a 15 page letter (plus exhibits) for the general inspector of the department.

The inspector's office opened an investigation of the centre's complaint and others under Bernhardt, but did not declare any intention. The Department 's spokespeople consistently argued that Bernhardt is fully compliant with its ethical obligations.


The Westlands Water District is located in a central section of the Central Valley.

(Westlands Water District)

The contract in question would give Westlands permanent access to as much as 1.15 million acres of water per year from the Central Valley Project in government. That's twice as much water as the city of Los Angeles consumes in an average year. An acre foot is as much water as an average family or two families spend a year.

Much of the supply comes through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta River, the water supply to Central Valley, Southern California, and Northern California's water ecology. All of these are competitive claimants in the water in a zero competition. Provide water to some users – cultivated the Central Valley means reducing supplies to others.

Westlands water rights are not insurmountable – Reclamation can be reduced backwards in dry years, even to zero. But in the years with smaller cuts, the contract would entitle the area to a massive supply of water to the survival of its member businesses. The permanent contract “increases the political pressure to divert more water from the delta,” says Doug Obegi, California's manager for the Council for the Protection of Natural Resources.

The permanent contract is a major part of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act for the Nation, known as the WIIN Act.

The WIIN extract in December 2016 was an exciting incident of legislative manipulation. The action was a bilateral measure put together by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) And James Inhofe (R-Okla.) To fund water projects nationwide, including Flint, Mich water system. residents poisoning from lead contamination.

At the last minute, however, provisions were sent for the benefit of Westlands and other major commercial users in the West, in that Boxer asked “fake attack” by Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). And then by the House Majority Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). Bernhardt, who was a registered Westland stockman at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, had lobbied for the action.

According to the letter from the Campaign Law Center, even after he had given up his lobbying register to participate in President Trump's transfer team at Interior, Bernhardt edited a “draft executive order” for Donald Trump who was elected. by the President, and sent to two Westlands officials. ”The enforcement order related to the liberation of the Glensale water supply, using a language that was largely unchanged in the WIIN Act itself.

He argued that the last minute provisions would reduce the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws to favor agricultural businesses in a Central Valley, and Boxer added a filibuster against his own bill as one of his final acts. before resigning from the Seanad. She failed, and the action ran and President Obama duly signed it.

The provisions promoted by a Boxer inhaler have clear advantages for rich and politically linked agricultural entities, such as Westlands. They enable federal officials to minimize environmental limits so that they can water more water for these users.

But another provision flew under the radar, first. It allows large water users to convert their short-term contracts into permanent contracts one year ahead of schedule, by paying in lump sums rather than over time, the debts owed by the federal government for the construction of the Valley Valley Project.

On the surface it seems that this is not all significant. “The reaction is upsetting,” says Birmingham, claiming that Westlands may have been entitled to change its contract to permanent status by 2030 anyway. He says the public will benefit from his money – estimated to be around $ 323 million – “on an accelerated basis.” T

In the meantime, the permanent contract will relieve Westlands of fitness restrictions and costs that limit their water supply and control pricing. Reclamation officers say that the WIIN Act requires the prepaid funds to be spent on water infrastructure that will benefit other users in California.

This is a point made by Feinstein in his true protection of the WIIN Act. Indeed, she is asking Capitol Hill to extend the measure for a further five years after sunset in December 2021. Her speaking points include that more areas will make an advance payment to their federal loans. the introduction of additional income in the next 10 years ”for the construction of new water storage, recycling and desalination projects.

Birmingham says Westlands is one of about 70 California water areas that apply to convert their short-term contracts into permanent agreements. Everyone is under pressure to complete their negotiations, as the WIIN Act sets a deadline of December 16, 2021, for the implementation of the contracts. However, Westlands is the only area that has concluded its negotiations to the point that its trial contract could be subject to public review, which took place on 24 October.

Critics discuss the complaint that dissatisfaction with hard information is about the terms of the conversion. The agency did not make public background documents necessary to assess the terms of the contract until they were demanded by a coalition of environmental groups in letter 29 October. Even then, the critics say that the documents are incomplete. They do not specify the main terms of a contract nor do they actually incorporate an assessment of the amount of water required by Westlands – a critical issue as the acreage cultivated is reducing, due to environmental concerns.

“The transparency difficulty is very difficult,” says Obegi NRDC. “We don't know whether Interior is trying to deal with the Westlands family by donating some of their debts to them or who knows what else. The public is kept in the dark as to how taxpayers' money will be used. ”

Regional Reclamation Bureau officials say that they have the discretion to make the talks and that they are closely aligned to the WIIN Act's terms to achieve terms, without interfering with Washington. When Bernhardt came inside, he listed Westlands and 24 other companies or organizations that he was represented on and so there could be conflicts of interest, but inside ethics officials said Bernhardt would not have to reuse him. from Westlands decisions on wider policy issues.

However, it is a reflection of the doubts raised by the Bernhardt record and the influence of Westlands that almost none in the environmental community believe that it was connected to the water contract.

Interior managers are “smart enough to delegate this so that they can pretend to have no connection with David Bernhardt,” says Huffman. “But the career progress of anyone who worked on any aspect of this depends on David Bernhardt. It is at the top of the organ chart. ”


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