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House Passes Interior Spending Bill with Rider Banning Delta Tunnels Lawsuits
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Jul 19th, 2018 5:08 PM
The first rider written by Congressman Ken Calvert (R-Corona) seeks to exempt the Delta Tunnels, also known as the California Waterfix project, from further judicial review, according to a statement from Restore the Delta.
WASHINGTON D.C. – The House of Representatives today passed the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 6147), including three federal riders that would circumvent water rights laws and legal protections for the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, according to public trust advocates.

The package will now go to the U.S. Senate, where a big battle over the dangerous riders is expected.

Central Valley agribusiness representatives and Republican Congressmen lauded the passage of the controversial legislation, while environmental groups, fishing organizations, family farmers and Democratic Members of Congress blasted the bill's three riders for attempting to remove due process, water quality and quantity protections, and water rights for the Delta.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), the highest earner of farm subsidies in Congress, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group, praised the passage of the legislation. Farms that LaMalfa has ownership interest in have received at least $5.3 million in subsidies since 1995:

“This funding measure passed by the House today funds critical infrastructure programs and reins in overreaching policies by the EPA and other agencies,” LaMalfa claimed. “This includes language prohibiting the Army Corps from regulating normal farming activities exempt under the law, as well as a full repeal of the WOTUS rule.” 

'Since the federal government owns such a large portion of the land in Northern California and across the West, this legislation allocates tax dollars for PILT in order to make up for budget shortfalls in rural communities," said La Malfa.

La Malfa said he authored language in the bill to increase funding to jumpstart the process of eradicating illegal marijuana grows on federally owned lands.

"I’m pleased the House has passed another important appropriations measure that will benefit our economy – the Senate should adopt it," said LaMalfa.

According to LaMalfa, highlights of H.R. 6147 include:

• "Reins in the EPA’s regulatory overreach by reducing regulatory unnecessary programs by $228 million."

• $3.9 billion for the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service to fight wildfires.

• Fully repeals the "damaging" Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

• Provides $500 million for Payment in Lieu of Taxes, (PILT) which directs funds to local governments to fulfill budget shortfalls created by nontaxable federal lands.

• $75 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program to leverage federal dollars to finance more than $8 billion in water infrastructure projects.

• $5.9 billion for the Indian Health Service.

• $3.1 billion for the Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education.

• $5.5 million in funding to recover and delist threatened and endangered species within the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rep. LaMalfa also included an amendment in the bill that increases funding ($4.5 million) to the National Forest System account for purposes of "eradicating, enforcing, and remediating illegal marijuana grow operations on National Forest System land."

The first rider written by Congressman Ken Calvert (R-Corona) seeks to exempt the Delta Tunnels, also known as the California Waterfix project, from further judicial review, according to a statement from Restore the Delta.

Congressman David Valadao (R-Hanford) also introduced another provision to the Appropriations bill that would cement a legislative ban on major California water infrastructure projects including the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

"Then this week, Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) added yet another amendment to the Appropriations bill, seeking to dismantle the State Water Board’s recent recommended updates to the Bay Delta plan as a means to secure more water deliveries to the Central Valley," according to RTD.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said, “We anticipated the Interior Appropriations bill would pass the House, but we maintain that it will be stopped in the Senate. We are so grateful that Senator Feinstein and Senator Harris voiced their opposition to these harmful legislative efforts to undo due process, water quality and quantity protections, and water rights for the Delta."

"We would also like to thank Congressman John Garamendi and Congressman Jerry McNerney for their political courage that manifested into amendments that would have removed the language of these three harmful riders from the Appropriations bill. The House Committee on Rule’s decision to deny a House floor vote on these amendments illustrates the deep corruption that controls California water management decisions," she said.

“Preventing these amendments from coming to a full vote on the House floor confirms the purely political motivations behind this troubling language, which was inappropriately included in a crucial spending bill,” said Congressman McNerney. “As the tunnels continue to face legal scrutiny from multiple stakeholders, these riders are an obvious attempt to silence the legitimate concerns from Californians throughout the state, and a blatant effort to undermine longstanding state and federal environmental law."

In addition to the poison pill riders, Martin Hayden, Earthjustice’s Vice President of Policy and Legislation, criticized the spending bill for slashing over $100 million from the EPA and conservation initiatives at the Department of the Interior.

“Once again, House Republican leaders have stuffed the Interior appropriations bill to the gills with devastating budget cuts and anti-environment policy provisions that have nothing to do with spending bills,” said Hayden. “Among the massive giveaways to wealthy corporate polluters they’ve hidden in this must-pass bill: over $100 million in cuts to the EPA and conservation initiatives at the Department of the Interior and poison pill riders that attack clean water, public health and endangered species while attempting to fast-track drilling off our coasts and near treasured wilderness areas.”

Congress approved the legislation at the same time that Governor Jerry Brown, in collaboration with the Trump administration, is fast-tracking the construction of the Delta Tunnels, considered by opponents to be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history.

Public trust and environmental justice advocates say construction of the two massive 35 mile long tunnels to divert Sacramento River water from the North Delta would hasten the extinction of winter run and spring run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and other species — and decimate West Coast fisheries.

The construction of the project would also imperil the salmon and steelhead of the Trinity and Klamath rivers, since Trinity River water is diverted over the Trinity Mountains from Trinity and Lewiston reservoirs to the Sacramento River watershed to be exported to corporate growers in the Westlands Water District on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.