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Republicans’ Cynical Play on Hetch Hetchy – Green Dragon
Aug 042012
Image of John Muir

Be advised: this great man is dead.

It’s time to talk about THIS.

As a lifelong and career environmentalist, let me say this: greenies, you’re getting played. This is a bad, bad idea.

How do I count the ways? Let’s see…

First: do you see a lot of extra water laying around the American West? No, you don’t. So abandoning a working water supply infrastructure currently serving millions of people is maybe not so bright, straight out of the gate.

Second: add projected uncertainties due to climate change. So… abandoning a working water supply infrastructure currently serving millions of people is, again, maybe not so bright.

Third: what, exactly, do you hope to get out of this high-cost, high-risk venture? One valleymaybe restored to biodiversity, maybe not. No one has ever tried to reclaim an entire valley like this after a century of accumulated drowning under water and silt. Pretty big bet for a small payoff in the broad scheme of things.

It’s a valley that used to be very pretty, but it’s still just one valley. There are a lot of better investments for restoration dollars that don’t involve having to build another water system and trying something you don’t know is going to work. If you’re going to tell me that part of the payoff is a warm glowy feeling about “doing what is right” or “bringing peace to John Muir’s ghost,” please don’t: the man is dead, and making major decisions like this based on romantic feelings is not sensible in the least.

Fourth: speaking of silt… if the idea is to reestablish Hetch Hetchy much as it was, exactly how are you going to remove all that silt? And how do you propose to do it without severely threatening water quality downstream?

Fifth, take a look at who keeps proposing this. The initial proponent was Don Hodel–Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior after James Watt was driven out for expressing a bit too much of Teh Fundamentalist Crazy. He was one of the worst Secretaries we have ever had. He’s a right-wing evangelical Christian without a green bone in his body. He’s a former President of the Christian Coalition, and backed Pat Robertson for President. He believes the Book of Revelations, and accordingly, has zero reason to care about what happens to Planet Earth. The GW Bush administration tried to study draining Hetch Hetchy, too…and we all know what great green heroes THEY were.

The current point person of the anti-environmental right wing to propose draining Hetch Hetchy is Dan Lungren, a similarly hardcore conservative who had a ZERO PERCENT California League of Conservation Voters voting record while in the California State Legislature, and has maintained that sterling record in Congress.

These are the people to look to for bright ideas on the environmental front? C’mon: this isn’t hard to read.

Sixth, and most pertinently: what is this really about?

I’ll tell you. It’s about two things, both of them are pretty simple, and neither of them is even remotely good for the environment:

  • It’s about screwing with Democrats and liberals. This is a laugher for Republicans. They get to watch Democrat square off against Democrat in the most liberal metropolitan area in the country. Every greenie who gets disgusted and votes or donates third-party as a result of Democratic leaders’ opposing this stupid idea is another chip in their pile.
  • More than anything, it’s about bending the liberal Bay Area over a barrel for Southern and Central California water interests. So long as the greater Bay Area has a water supply system independent of the California Water Project, it has the latitude to put up a fuss about ideas like the never dead Peripheral Canal (or Tunnel, or Aqueduct, or Skyway, or whatever it’s going to be called next). But make it a part of that broader system (which would be the natural result of taking away that storage), and now it’s in a scrum with much larger and more powerful opponents, and it is sure as hell not going to let a smelt get in the way of having water to drink.

One of the biggest Achilles’ heels for the environmental movement is that element that is driven by romantic ideas rather than by science and reason. It’s the kind of thinking that leads people to pour funding in response to mail campaigns featuring charismatic critters with Big Brown Eyes, when it is the fabric of life–microbes, insects, plants and all–that really are the environment and sustain life on Planet Earth, brown-eyed or not.

Hetch Hetchy was lost. It was wrong, but it’s over. In today’s context, it is absolutely a baited trap for environmentalists to indulge themselves in a fantasy about undoing what has been done.

At publication, the Dragon was: BLUNT

  One Response to “Republicans’ Cynical Play on Hetch Hetchy”

  1. One thing that occurs to me on this issue is that this a real what-side-are-you-really-on moment for the Sierra Club.

    The Club has to make a choice: do the right thing for the environment and oppose the proposal, or make the error of thinking they have to salute their founder–and probably, to pander to much of their membership–by supporting it.

    It’ll be interesting to see where they come down.

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