North Coast Environmentalists Ask Brown to Cancel MLPA Initiative

author: 
Dan Bacher

Governor Schwarzenegger appointed an oil lobbyist, real estate executive, marina developer and other corporate interests to preside over the implementation of so-called marine protected areas on the California coast. This process has been characterized by conflicts of interest, corruption and the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws, including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

North Coast Environmentalists Ask Brown to Cancel MLPA Initiative
by Dan Bacher

John and Barbara Stephens-Lewallen, two of Mendocino County's most dedicated and respected environmental leaders, are asking Governor-elect Jerry Brown to terminate Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's widely-contested Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

"We ask you to cancel the illegal and unconstitutional memorandum of understanding signed under the Schwarzenegger administration transferring powers of the State of California to the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a private foundation, to control the process of creating Marine Protected Areas in California State lands and ocean waters under the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative," the Philo-based couple stated in a letter to Brown.

"The corrupt, privatized Marine Life Protection Act Initiative process scorns state laws and sovereign tribal rights," they wrote. "Marine Protected Areas enacted under the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative threaten great environmental and economic harm to present and future generations of Californians."

"Please act to cancel the memorandum of understanding with Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, and to nullify the Marine Protected Areas already enacted by this corrupt private process. Californians need and deserve access to sustainable food from our public ocean waters and intertidal zone. We do not consent to being governed by private foundations," they concluded.

The Stephens-Lewallens have fought offshore oil drilling, the clear cutting of forests, military testing, wave energy projects and other threats to coastal ecosystems for decades. John was the co-founder of the Ocean Protection Coalition and Seaweed Rebellion, two prominent grassroots environmental organizations.

The Marine Life Protection Act, signed by Governor Gray Davis into law in 1999, was designed to create a comprehensive network of marine protected areas along the California coast. However, the Schwarzenegger administration, in a grotesque parody of marine "protection," has taken water pollution, oil drilling, oil spills, military testing, wave energy projects, habitat destruction and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table.

Schwarzenegger appointed an oil lobbyist, real estate executive, marina developer and other corporate interests to preside over the implementation of so-called marine protected areas on the California coast. This process has been characterized by conflicts of interest, corruption and the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws, including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

During the annual fisheries forum at the State Legislature in Sacramento in April 2009, It was John who exposed the alarming role that a top oil industry lobbyist, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, now the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, was playing in the MPLA process.

“Why is Catherine Reheis-Boyd, CEO and Chief of Staff for the Western States Petroleum Association, a key member of the five-member MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force which has decreed new zones where people can take no food from state waters?” Stephens-Lewallen asked the Senators and Assemblymembers. “Is it coincidence that the Point Arena Basin offshore from Point Arena is the area of highest oil industry interest in Northern California, and the only tract here now open to Minerals Management Service offshore oil leasing process?"

In August of 2009, Reheis-Boyd in fact became the chair of the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and also served on the North Coast task force. Isn't having a oil industry lobbyist, who has repeatedly called for new drilling off the California coast, a huge conflict of interest?

The movement against the privately-funded MLPA Initiative is one of the most significant grassroots political movements on the North Coast since the Redwood Summer of 1990. On July 21, over 300 people including members of 50 Indian Tribes, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, immigrant seafood industry workers and environmentalists peacefully took control of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) meeting in Fort Bragg to demand that the initiative respect tribal gathering and fishing rights.

Under political pressure from the Yurok Tribe and other North Coast Tribes, the task force decided on Thursday, December 10 not to approve a motion that would have effectively terminated Tribal gathering and fishing rights.

The Tribes, fishermen and environmentalists insisted that there be no changes to the unified marine protected area proposal developed by stakeholders in a long, grueling and controversial process. The Klamath and Coastal Justice coalitions launched a campaign to urge the panel to stop any attempt to deny tribal subsistence and ceremonial rights – and this political pressure, along with a strongly worded letter by Yurok Tribal Chair Thomas O’Rourke and a letter from a coalition of other North Coast Tribes, apparently worked.

The North Coast proposal will be presented to the Fish and Game Commission on February 2, 2011, after Governor-Elect Jerry Brown takes office.

Meanwhile, the Commission (FGC) in Santa Barbara on December 15 voted 3-2 to approve a wide-ranging array of marine protected areas (MPAs) along the southern California coast. The Central Coast and North Central Coast marine reserves are already in place.

“We hope that sovereign tribal rights will stay in the forefront of the MLPA process,” said Georgiana Myers, organizer for the Klamath Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribal member. “This should be true in every region that is impacted by the MLPA, especially on the North Coast. We will be organizing people to show up in numbers for the Commission meeting in February."

Brown has to date made no comment on his position on the MLPA Initiative, a process that Governor Schwarzenegger privatized in 2004. While NRDC, the Ocean Conservancy and other big environmental NGOs avidly support the privately funded process, grassroots environmentalists, fishermen, Tribal members and pro-democracy activists strongly oppose the corrupting influence of private Resources Legacy Fund Foundation money on a public process.

The MLPA process was privatized by the same Governor who presided over the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail and other fish species, relentlessly campaigned for the construction of an environmentally destructive and enormously expensive peripheral canal and new dams and vetoed numerous laws protecting fish, water and the environment.

Photo: In yet another example of a corporate environmental NGO greenwashing the deplorable environmental legacy of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Beautiful Earth Group on December 9 gave Schwarzenegger the 2010 Green Governor of the Year Award. From left to right: Beautiful Earth Group President and Chief Executive Officer Lex Heslin, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Opportunity Green Co-founder Karen Solomon and Americas Region of Beautiful Earth Group Director Michael Clayton. Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.