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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Billionaire 'Environmentalist' Exerts Huge Influence Over Water Policies
Yet the wealthy agribusinessman and "one man environmental wrecking crew" also wears another hat - "environmental leader." Yes, Stewart Resnick serves on the board of directors of Conservation International, a corporate "environmental" NGO noted for its top-down approach to conservation and involvement with corporate greenwashing throughout the world.
Billionaire 'Environmentalist' Exerts Huge Influence Over Water Policies
Stewart Resnick and Rob Walton Serve on Conservation International Board
by Dan Bacher
Stewart Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire owner of Paramount Farms in Kern County, has been instrumental in promoting campaigns to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for Central Valley Chinook salmon and Delta smelt populations and to build the fish-killing peripheral tunnels.
Lance Williams of the Center for Investigative Reporting in December 2009 succinctly described the powerful agribusiness tycoon as a "one-man environmental wrecking crew.” (http://www.alternet.org/story/144427/meet_stewart_resnick%2C_corporate_farming_billionaire_and_one-man_environmental_wrecking_crew)
Resnick's influence on California water policies has only increased since then. On April 25, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla exposed in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle the enormous influence of Stewart Resnick and his wife, Lynda, and the Westlands Water District on the water and fish policies of Governor Jerry Brown and his predecessors.
“The influence of the Resnicks and their cohorts in the Westlands and Kern water districts has been brought to bear so heavily on the governor's office during the past three administrations that the fix is basically in on building the peripheral tunnels,” she said.
The Resnicks made $270,000 in contributions to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, $350,000 to support Gov. Gray Davis, and $102,000 to Gov. Jerry Brown, according to Barrigan-Parrilla.
“As a result of the political influence of billionaires who receive taxpayer-subsidized water, the state Department of Water Resources functions almost as a subsidiary of the water exporters,” she said.
“The outsize influence of delta water exporters can be seen in the recent 'drought relief' action by state and federal regulators, which undid with the stroke of a pen Endangered Species Act protections for fisheries that were the result of a decade-long legal challenge. In addition to the requirements set in the biological opinions for delta fisheries, there are three sets of water quality standards arrived at through legal processes that already take into account critical dry-year situations. Two sets of water quality standards are being waived as part of drought emergency measures - one set to protect fisheries, another set to protect water quality for delta family farm,” she continued.
“Beyond that, requirements in the court-issued biological opinions to protect fisheries are being waived. Now, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is working with San Joaquin Valley congressional representatives, who have received numerous campaign contributions from Stewart Resnick, on legislation to further weaken already inadequate protections in order to facilitate increased pumping of delta water to southern water users,” said Barrigan Parrilla.
Yet the wealthy agribusinessman and "one man environmental wrecking crew" also wears another hat - "environmental leader." Yes, Resnick serves on the board of directors of Conservation International, a corporate "environmental" NGO noted for its top-down approach to conservation and involvement with corporate greenwashing throughout the world.
Resnick sits on the board with Rob Walton, the Chairman of the board's Executive Committee. Walton, the oldest child of Sam and Helen Walton, is Chairman of the Board of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
It is no surprise that Conservation International was the top recipient of Walton Family Foundation money in 2013, receiving $20,427,136 including $6,080,392 for the Bird’s Head Seascape, $4,345,744 for the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape and $10,000,000 for “Other Environmental Grants.”
"Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity," according to Conservation International's Mission Statement.
However, while serving on the board of Conservation International, Resnick become notorious for buying subsidized Delta water and then selling it back to the public for a big profit as Delta fish and Central Valley salmon populations crashed.
“As the West Coast’s largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found,” according an article by the late Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times on May 23, 2009. (http://www.revivethesanjoaquin.org/content/pumping-water-and-cash-delta)
Taugher said the “environmental water account” set up in 2000 to “improve” the Delta ecosystem spent nearly $200 million mostly to benefit water users while also creating a “cash stream for private landowners and water agencies in the Bakersfield area.”
“No one appears to have benefited more than companies owned or controlled by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, philanthropist and major political donor whose companies, including Paramount Farms, own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County,” Taugher stated. “Resnick’s water and farm companies collected about 20 cents of every dollar spent by the program.”
Resnick and his wife, Lynda, own Roll International, a Los Angeles-based holding company that includes both global agricultural operations and well-known brands. The Resnicks' companies include Paramount Citrus, Paramount Farming, and Paramount Farms, the world’s largest growers, processors, and marketers of citrus, almonds, and pistachios.
The couple's holdings also include POM Wonderful, FIJI Water, Teleflora, Suterra, and JUSTIN Vineyard.Dubbed the "POM Queen," Lynda is behind the marketing success of POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice and Wonderful Pistachios.
One of the largest private water brokers in the U.S., Roll International makes millions of dollars in profits off marketing subsidized public water back to the public, confirmed independent journalist Yasha Levine.
“Through a series of subsidiary companies and organizations, Roll International is able to convert California’s water from a public, shared resource into a private asset that can be sold on the market to the highest bidder,” said Levine in “How Limousine Liberals, Water Oligarchs and Even Sean Hannity are Hijacking Our Water” on alternet.org. (http://www.alternet.org/story/144020/how_limousine_liberals,_water_oligarchs_and_even_sean_hannity_are_hijacking_our_water_supply)
More recently, Lois Henry of the Bakersfield Californian revealed how the Resnicks have made a profit selling water from the Kern County Water Bank, through a complicated series of maneuvers, to supply a 2,000 acre development called Gateway Village in Madera County.(http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/columnists/lois-henry/x429884005/LOIS-HENRY-How-water-from-Kern-grows-sprawl-in-Madera)
The Resnicks are known for the influence they have exerted over California politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties, including former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and others, through campaign contributions. (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/02/15/18637867.php)
The Resnicks contributed $99,000 to Jerry Brown’s 2010 campaign (http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/brown-and-whitmans-contributions-glance-5779?appSession=772187602630348).
The Resnicks exert their influence over California politics in other ways besides direct contributions to political campaigns. For example, the executives of Paramount Farms have also set up an Astroturf group, the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, that engages in green washing campaigns such as one blaming striped bass, rather than water exports, for salmon and other fish declines.
Restore the Delta, a coalition opposed to the construction of the peripheral tunnels, pointed out that Resnick, who is one of the biggest Delta water diverters, is not suffering during the drought as family farmers, northern California cities and counties and imperiled salmon and steelhead are. In fact, Fortune magazine on January 21, 2014 wrote about Resnick's $100,000,00 five year advertising campaign to market the "Halos" brand mandarins, as well as their $220 million packinghouse to process the crop.
"Halos' owner -- Los Angeles-based company Roll Global, which also makes POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and Fiji Water -- plans to as much as double output in the next five years," the magazine said. "In order to juice demand, the company recently launched a five-year, $100 million ad campaign, $20 million of which will be spent this year on marketing and TV ads already playing across the country. This season the Halos packinghouse will process the country's largest mandarin harvest, tens of millions of boxes of the fruit." (http://money.cnn.com/2014/01/16/news/companies/halos-roll-global.pr.fortune/index.html)
Stewart Resnick's position on the board of an "environmental" NGO while he and wife promote policies that are devastating fish, rivers, the Delta and California's environment provides a glimpse of the larger picture of corporate greenwashing that occurs with groups that receive grants from the Walton Family Foundation, the organization set up by the family who own Walmart.
Feeding at the Walmart Trough
Walmart, the country’s largest retailer and employer, makes more than $17 billion in profits annually, so it has a lot of money to dump into “environmental” groups such as Conservation International that serve its agenda of privatization of the public trust. The wealth of the Walton family totals over $144.7 billion – equal to that of 42% of Americans.
The Walton Family Foundation reported “investments” totaling more than $91.4 million in “environmental initiatives” in 2012, including contributions to corporate “environmental” NGOs pushing ocean privatization through the “catch shares” programs and so-called “marine protected areas” like those created under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, as well as to groups supporting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels.
According to a press release from the Walmart Headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas, “the foundation awarded grants of more than $91 million to groups and programs that create benefits for local economies and communities through lasting conservation solutions for oceans and rivers.”
The foundation directed an overwhelming majority of the grants toward its two core environmental initiatives – “Freshwater Conservation” and Marine Conservation.”
“Our work is rooted in our belief that the conservation solutions that last are the ones that make economic sense,” gushed Scott Burns, director of the foundation’s Environment Focus Area. “The foundation and our grantees embrace ‘conservationomics’ – the idea that conservation efforts can and should bring economic prosperity to local communities.”
The foundation donated $38,648,952 to “Marine Conservation,” $29,367,340 to “Freshwater Conservation” and $23,683,286 for “Other Environment Grants” in 2012.
The Environmental Defense Fund, the second largest recipient, received a total of $12,943,017, including $7,800,000 for catch shares, $1,881,652 for the Colorado River, $3,032,300 for the Mississippi River, $20,000 for the Gulf Of Mexico and $209,065 for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The Environmental Defense Fund is known for its market-based approach to conservation and its push for “catch shares” that essentially privatize the oceans. The relationship between the group and the retail giant is so close that it operates an office in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered.
Ocean Conservancy, a strong supporter of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act Initiative to create “marine protected areas” in California, received the third largest chunk of money from the foundation in 2012, $5,447,354, including $2,112,500 for “Marine Conservation” in the Gulf of Mexico and $3,334,854 for the oil spill in the Gulf.
Nature Conservancy, Inc. received $4,509,616, the fourth largest amount of money, including $1,700,000 for the Colorado River, $725,557 for the Mississippi River, $553,148 for the Bird’s Head Seascape, $21,000 for Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, $350,000 for Gulf of Mexico projects, $400,825 for catch shares and $759,086 for “other conservation grants.”
The Nature Conservancy is known for its strong support of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels that Resnick and other corporate agribusiness interests so avidly support.
Other recipients of Walton Foundation money in 2012 include American Rivers, the Center for American Progress, Environmental Working Group, Marine Stewardship Council, National Audubon Society, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Geographic Society, Oxfam America, Inc., Resources Legacy Fund, World Wildlife Fund and many other NGOs.
A complete list of Walton Family Foundation recipients is available at: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/about/2012-grant-report#environment.