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Sean Hannity Spreads Dangerous Misinformation about California Water
by Dan Bacher
Friday Sep 18th, 2009 2:15 PM
Neo-conservative talk show host Sean Hannity aired live from the west side of the San Joaquin Valley last night to garner national attention for California’s "water crisis," falsely portraying the battle by a broad coalition of fishermen, conservationists, California Indian Tribes, Delta farmers and environmental justice activists to restore the Delta and Central Valley salmon as a conflict of "fish versus jobs."

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Sean Hannity Spreads Dangerous Misinformation about California Water

Burson-Marsteller PR Firm Hosts ‘Astroturf’ Rally in San Joaquin Valley

by Dan Bacher

Neoconservative talk show host Sean Hannity aired live from the west side of the San Joaquin Valley last night to garner national attention for California’s "water crisis," falsely portraying the battle by a broad coalition of fishermen, conservationists, California Indian Tribes, Delta farmers and environmental justice activists to restore the Delta and Central Valley salmon as a conflict of "fish versus jobs."

The Burson-Marsteller PR Firm hosted an ‘Astroturf’ rally, funded by corporate agribusiness, advocating anti-environmental measures that will destroy the Pacific ecosystem and the economy of the California coast and Sacramento Valley that depend on the income generated by recreational and commercial salmon and other fisheries.

"It's becoming a Dust Bowl out here," Hannity claimed as he broadcasted from a farm in Huron, California during the "The Valley That Hope Forgot" show. "This is the death panel for farming."

"Mr. President, turn the water on now," he appealed to President Obama.

His guests included comedian Paul Rodriguez, chairman of the California Latino Water Coalition, an agribusiness front organization; former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry and Representatives George Radanovich (R-Mariposa), Devin Nunes (R-Visalia), and Jim Costa (D-Fresno). While the crowd roundly applauded Nunes, many booed Costa when he spoke.

"Nowhere in the world has a democracy ever starved people its water," stated Nunes, known for his over-the-top rhetoric. "Zimbabwe has done this."

Governor Arnold Scharzenegger sided with agribusiness and Hannity during his interview on the show, blaming structural unemployment in the Valley on the federal biological opinion protecting Delta smelt and chinook salmon.

"We have a terrible crisis on our hands," said Scharzenegger. "And this is a crisis, not because of some disaster. It's a crisis self-inflicted. This is something that the federal government is doing to us. We have done, like you said, everything in the book to convince them otherwise and to turn on the water. So, we are being handicapped here by federal judges, and this is the terrible thing about it."

Schwarzenegger used his interview as an opportunity to campaign for new water "infrastructure" - a peripheral canal and more dams that fishing and most environmental groups are opposing. "In the meantime, I think it's also important for you to note that we're moving ahead here in Sacramento, because we have been negotiating for years to create a water infrastructure, to bring our water infrastructure up to date, because we have now 38 million people in California," said Schwarzenegger. "And the last infrastructure that you see now that was done was done when we had around 18 million people."

In the broadcast, hundreds of farmworkers appeared in the background, backed up for miles, holding signs and screaming chants in support of Hannity. However, these are the same workers with the same signs that Valley labor contractors and corporate agribusiness have hired for a series of astroturfing rallies throughout the state over the past several month.

In April, the same organization sponsoring Hannity’s visit held a "March for Water" that Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers Union founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, denounced for not representing the interests of farmworkers. The New York Times on April 17 reported that "many of the protesters were paid by their employers to march in lieu of harvesting crops.”

"In reality, this is not a farm worker march,'' Rodriguez told the Times. ''This is a farmer march orchestrated and financed by growers.''

No farmworker or environmental justice organizations supported the "march" - or the rally that Hannity broadcast from yesterday.

Fishermen, conservationists and environmental justice advocates were outraged by Hannity's cynical use of farmworkers to put a "human face" on the corporate agribusiness interests that are making hundreds of millions of dollars off rampant water speculation.

"Instead of illustrating how outrageous water speculation and irresponsible agricultural practices are adding to a natural drought, Hannity fueled partisan politics and blamed President Obama for refusing to lift a series of federal mandates and environmental rulings that order a small amount of water to be used to restore regional fisheries and protect the balance of the entire Northern California coastal ecosystem," according to a statement from fishing and environmental organizations. "State water experts counted a total of 10 incorrect statements in Hannity’s broadcast.

In June 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in its biological opinion ordered a reduction of 5-7% of water exported from the California Delta pumps (330,000 acre-feet) to prevent Sacramento and San Joaquin River chinook salmon from becoming extinct.

"In addition to the salmon, the NMFS order will help boost populations of other threatened species - including sole, crab, herring, smelt, steelhead, sturgeon, striped bass, and the southern resident population of killer whales (orcas)," the groups noted. "Regional commercial and sport fisheries have collapsed over the past 2 years and an independent economic research firm estimates that recovery of the salmon fishery alone would create $5.7 billion in new economic activity for the state, and the creation of 94,000 new jobs."

The closure of recreational and commercial salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coast in 2008 and 2009 has led to widespread economic devastation in coastal communities, spurring Representative Mike Thompson and Congress to pass legislation last year that provided $170 million disaster relief money for salmon fishing and related businesses. Dick Pool of Water for Fish emphasized that the shutdown has led to the loss of 23,000 jobs and $1.4 million to the state's economy annually, according to economic data compiled by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).

“The water needed to save Pacific fisheries is a drop in the bucket compared to what is being lost with irresponsible irrigation techniques and business practices,” said Mike Hudson, President of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen’s Association. “Local fisheries have completely collapsed and thousands of our lives have been destroyed, but Hannity ignores our families to promote his politics.”

True to his subservience to agribusiness, Hannity made no mention of a recent Pacific Institute report showing how simple, and cost-effective irrigation techniques could be adopted by Valley farmers to save nearly 6 million acre-feet of water per year - over 18 times the amount re-routed by the NMFS order.

"Nor did he address the growing practice of water speculation, in which rural land owners purchase subsidized water from the federal government and sell it for profit on the open marke," said Hudson. "Sandridge Partners, a Sunnyvale real estate company, recently sold 14,000 acre-feet of water out of the valley for $77 million. Finally, Hannity failed to explain why the Westlands Water District, from which he broadcast from, is sitting on nearly 275,000 acre-feet of water that it is not distributing."

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance District (CSPA) in August discovered that the district has been "squirreling away" 275,000 acre feet of surplus water it can't use. Bill Jennings, executive director of CSPA, found a Westlands' information bulletin dated July 23, 2009 revealing that the giant irrigation district has been "hiding considerable carryover storage from last year and is adding even more this year." CSPA is calling for an investigation into Westlands' surplus water and possible surplus water hidden away by other water districts.

Hannity also claimed that the price of processed tomato goods and almonds is going to skyrocket across the nation because of the "water crisis."

However, salmon advocates noted that this year is predicted to be a record-breaking harvest of processing tomatoes due to ideal weather conditions. Tomato production is up 15% from last year, with 11% more acres planted. Mike Montna, president and CEO of the California Tomato Growers Association, said this year’s processing-tomato harvest — now at the halfway point — is heading toward a record for the state. Almonds are in record-shattering surpluses as well, and a decrease in production would actually save the industry.

"Besides the drought and water restrictions, Valley farms are full of bumper crops this year," said Hudson. " Agricultural surpluses of water-intensive crops such as almonds, tomatoes, walnuts, and pecans are expected."

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), who was briefly interviewed by Hannity last night after being castigated as a "wacko" environmentalist, extended an on-air invitation to Hannity to visit northern California and the Pacific Northwest and interview the fishermen who have been without a livelihood for 2 years.

“Certainly we can do both,” replied Hannity.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Hannity has chosen to be a stooge for large landowners making a water grab so they can sell it to southern California for golf courses in the desert,” said Grader.

Fortunately, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has held firm against Schwarzenegger's attempt to block the recovery of these imperiled fish and whales - and issued a statement responding to the misinformation in the broadcast.

"They are asking the federal government to turn on water pumps that deliver water through the Bay Delta to Central Valley users, but the pumps are on," according to a Interior fact sheet updated on September 17. "The temporary pumping restrictions that were required under the Endangered Species Act ended on June 30th. They accounted for approximately one-quarter of 2009 water delivery shortages to farms and water users; the other three-quarters of this year’s delivery shortage were the result of a lack of run-off."

The broadcast took place less than a week after a massive uprising by grassroots fishermen, conservationists, environmental justice advocates, northern California farmers and labor unions defeated a water bill package, pushed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and other legislators, that would have served as a road map to the peripheral canal on the Delta. In an affront to the democratic process, the Joint Conference Committee established by Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and a back door negotiating committee completely excluded Delta Legislators and fishing, tribal, environmental justice and Delta farming communities.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, this week called on the California Legislature to include 9 ideas in future water package discussions following the failure of the Legislature to pass a package of water bills during the final weeks of the 2009 Legislative session.

"Restore the Delta is optimistic the California Legislature can bring groups together to find common ground on these complex issues," Barrigan-Parrilla stated. "But that is true only if they commit to addressing the real water policy issues that impact all Californians. We look forward to working with them this fall and winter." For the complete list of recommendations, go to http://www.restorethedelta.org.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein and agribusiness's collaborators in the Legislature are continually campaigning for the construction of a peripheral canal and Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoirs in order to increase water exports to west side growers at tremendous expense to Delta fisheries and farms. Schwarzenegger, named as "Outdoor Villain" for 2008 by Field and Stream magazine, is also pressuring the Obama administration to overturn the federal biological opinions protecting Delta smelt, salmon, steelhead, green sturgeon and southern resident killer whales to curry the favor of agribusiness.

To see the Hannity show broadcast, go to: http://www.youtube.com/user/RepDevinNunes




For complete details of the misinformation told on Hannity’s broadcast, see the fact sheet below:

COMPLETE DETAILS OF MISINFORMATION ON HANNITY’S FRESNO BROADCAST

False. Hundreds of laborers appeared in the background, backed up for miles, holding signs and screaming chants in support of Hannity.
True. These are the same workers with the same signs that have been hired by large farm growers for the past couple of rallies. On April 14, 2009, the same organization sponsoring Hannity’s visit held a march that the United Farm Workers called a “grower-sponsored march, a grower-organized march, for water for growers....not a farmworkers' march." The New York Times reported "many of the protesters were paid by their employers to march in lieu of harvesting crops.”

F. The unemployment rate in the San Joaquin Valley is over 40% because farmers cannot grow crops due to a lack of water.
T. The State of California’s most recent employment data reports that Fresno County, the county in which Hannity filmed, has only 15% unemployment, compared to a 12.1% state average. Furthermore, farm jobs increased by 5.3% in the months immediate following the NMFS environmental ruling. Even before the global recession, the Western region of the county historically had the highest unemployment rate in the state. In 2000, before the drought and environmental restrictions, unemployment in the Western region was 32%.

F. The federal government has shut off the water pumps.
T. Most water is flowing through the valley. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that nearly 80% of the water from the ailing delta continues to flow directly into the valley. The local water district has a surplus of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water that it is not distributing.

F. The water restrictions were issued to protect only a 2” smelt.
T. A number of species threatened with extinction in this region are being protected by this regulation, including salmon, sole, crab, herring, steelhead, sturgeon, bass, and killer whales. The collapse of one of these fisheries alone is costing the state $5.7 billion and 94,000 jobs.

F. The federal government is choosing fish over people.
T. Protecting regional fisheries creates numerous jobs. Both fish and agriculture can prosper if growers adopted simple, cost-effective irrigation techniques. More responsible farming practices would save 18 times the amount of water being diverted for salmon.

F. The price of processed tomato goods and almonds are going to skyrocket across the nation.
T. This year is predicted to be a record-breaking harvest of processing tomatoes due to ideal weather conditions. Tomato production is up 15% from last year, with 11% more acres planted. Mike Montna, president and CEO of the California Tomato Growers Association, said this year’s processing-tomato harvest — now at the halfway point — is heading toward a record for the state. Almonds are in record-shattering surpluses as well, and a decrease in production would actually save the industry.

F. The NMFS ruling will require us to import more food from China.
T. Seafood is already the most imported food product in the United States. The NMFS estimates that 83% of all seafood consumed in America last year was imported from another country. Driving fisheries out of business will only increase food imports. On the other hand, 75% of California’s almonds are exported out of the United States.

F. This decision was made by a handful of environmentalists.
T. Restoring water to fisheries has been ordered for over 15 years, beginning in 1992 with a Congressional law (Central Valley Improvement Act). A recent independent review was “flabbergasted” that the law has been ignored. A team of government scientists in the Bush administration ordered for water to be rerouted to save fisheries as well, although that order was shelved by the Secretary of the Interior. An additional report was recently released and approved by the new administration.

F. Local residents are flocking to food banks and waiting all day for food.
T. The local CBS station reported that only ‘dozens of families’ showed up to the food bank.

F. The area of Fresno County in which Hannity reported is a ‘natural breadbasket’ where agriculture flourishes.
T. Huron, CA receives an average of only 6.7 inches of rain a year, far less than what is needed to sustain agriculture.