Editorial Targets MLPA’s Privatization of Resource Management

author: 
Dan Bacher

The privatization of ocean conservation management under the shadowy and unaccountable Resources Legacy Fund Foundation is at the core of everything that is wrong with the MLPA process. In my 27 years of covering water and environmental issues in California and the West, I have never witnessed an environmental fiasco that is as corrupt and ridden with conflicts of interest as the MLPA Initiative.

Editorial Targets MLPA’s Privatization of Resource Management

by Dan Bacher

An outstanding Eureka Times-Standard editorial this morning, “Don’t Tread on Me,” exposes the key problem with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast-track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative – the privatization of resource management that has taken place under the widely-criticized process.

“How did the state get to the point where a well-endowed private foundation — the Resources Legacy Foundation — came to play such a vital role in taking away people’s ability to harvest seafood?” the editorial states.

The privatization of ocean conservation management under the shadowy and unaccountable Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, led by executive director Michael Eaton, is at the core of everything that is wrong with the MLPA process. In my 27 years of covering water and environmental issues in California and the West, I have never witnessed an environmental fiasco that is as corrupt and ridden with conflicts of interest as the MLPA Initiative.

Oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate operatives that have conflicts of interest in the outcome of the process dominate the Blue Ribbon Task Forces (BRTF) that lead the MLPA Initiative.

In fact, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the chair of the South Coast task force who now serves on the North Coast BRTF, is the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. Reheis-Boyd has repeatedly called for new oil drilling off the California coast in recent months in spite of the environmental and economic devastation in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher.

I applaud the perseverance and hard work by the Tribal, fishing, environmental and business community stakeholders in developing one single proposal for the North Coast under the MLPA process. By sending a unified proposal to the Blue Ribbon Task Force, they refused to be "divided and conquered" by the Schwarzenegger administration. This contrasts with the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast processes where different stakeholder groups submitted separate proposals.

“For now, we congratulate the regional representatives in the process for participating and taking some of the sting out of the Marine Life Protection Act,” the editorial says. “And we send the same message upstream to the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the California Fish and Game Commission: ‘Don’t tread on me.’”

I completely agree with the Times-Standard that by agreeing to a single proposal, the stakeholders helped minimize the economic costs to local communities and did the best to protect Tribal fishing and gathering rights.

However, the question needs to be asked: what does the Initiative really protect the oceans against? The MLPA process has completely taken oil drilling, water pollution, corporate aquaculture, wave energy development, habitat destruction and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table.

The so-called “marine protected areas” would do nothing to stop a disaster like the Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil spills from taking place off the California coast. Schwarzenegger has effectively eviscerated the Marine Life Protection Act in a cynical attempt to greenwash his abysmal environmental legacy.

“Unfortunately, these marine protected areas, as currently designed, don’t protect against oil spills,” said Sara Randall, program director at the Commercial Fishermen of America. “What’s the point of developing marine protected areas if they don’t protect the resources?”

The MLPA process is not only a parody of marine protection, but it has violated numerous state, federal and national laws, as documented by reporters from the Eureka Times-Standard, Fort Bragg Advocate News, San Diego Union-Tribune, indybay.org, alternet.org and numerous other publications. The Bagley-Keene Public Meetings Act, California Public Records Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are among the many laws the process has violated.

“The people of California should think long and hard about how private money is used to prop up law created by elected officials who are at least accountable at the ballot box,” the editorial says. “Should lawmakers ever pass legislation they can’t afford? Or should they open the door to private interests to direct the process in the direction they want it to go?”

These are very legitimate questions about whether private interests should fund public resource management. My answer is a resounding “No!”

The privatization of the MPLA process by Schwarzenegger in 2004 was a very bad idea then and is a very bad idea now. The time has come for a suspension of the privately-funded initiative and for state and federal investigations of the conflicts of interests and violations of laws that have proliferated under the MLPA process.

Here is the link to the editorial: http://www.times-standard.com/editorials/ci_15982241