Thursday, December 15, 2016

Water, The West and Cabinet Appointments

Trump has tapped a Montanan, Ryan Zinke, for Secretary of the Interior.  Of course he has.  Who better to run the agency which regulates our public lands than someone from a region that has chronically abused natural water supplies since it was settled by the white man, all the while suckling from the teat of the federal govenrment?

The best book I read in 2016, and I one I want to recommend to you without any reservations, especially if you grew up or live west of the Mississippi (as I did), is Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.  It makes abundantly clear that the way we chose to settle the West over the past century and a half is the worst possible way we could.  Californians in particular, but also Arizonans, Coloradans, Montanans, Idahoans, you name it, all have benefited from unnaturally cheap water - water that is guaranteed to run out sooner or later.

It's an incredibly rich book, but I'll attempt to sum it up in a few bullet points:
  • California is the prime culprit of water theft in the West.  There should not be a major metropolis where Los Angeles is, and don't let the greenery of the Embarcadero fool you - San Francisco is, naturally, a wind-swept and rather barren place.  It is thanks to diverting the rivers of the West that these cities have flourished.
  • But don't get too mad at your average Los Angelo or San Franciscan - the prime benefactors of water schemes in California have long been farmers, and not the struggling, small-time Ma and Pa farmers of myth, but huge landowners, including several oil companies who own massive farms principally for tax write-off purposes.
  • When you hear of the involvement of the Bureau of Reclamation or especially the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in any given project, your hackles should immediately go up.  Under the benevolent-sounding guise of "flood control," the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have engineered countless projects solely for the benefit of large landowners, railroading all who stand in their way, especially Native Americans.  Lest you think I am a bleeding-heart liberal who cares more about Native Americans than "real Americans," rest assured that I take a rather cold-hearted view of infrastructure projects in general: if there's to be a net benefit from a given infrastructure project, and some innocent people - Native Americans or otherwise - are going to be injured in the process, I mean I feel bad, but I'm all for it.  Now, when those projects are total bullshit who benefit only the affluent few, then the moral calculus is a little different, isn't it?  Thus has it been with various projects built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
(Before I continue, let me make it clear that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does some fine work overseas, building bridges, sanitation projects, etc.  Its use to enrich large landowners, to my knowledge, it strictly a domestic phenomenon.  Nor do I wish to discredit those individual members of the Corps who signed up to do good work.  It is the use of the Corps at a high level in the United States which should earn our opprobrium.)
  • Dams, by and large, are bullshit.  I didn't use to think dams were bullshit.  This book changed my view.  Not only are they ecologically crippling, the use of "cash-register" dams feed the beast of water projects throughout the West.
  • The economic benefits of most major water projects in the West are negligible at best.  Agriculture is being cultivated in regions where agriculture was never intended to be.  Better to have wide-spread cattle grazing on public lands and obviate agriculture entirely.  Surely we can get our almonds from somewhere else.  I single almonds out here, but they're far from the worst waste of water in the West: here's looking at you, Central Arizona Project and San Jaoquin Valley generally.
  • Generally speaking, people cannot afford to farm in the West without considerable largess from the federal government in particular, because water is hard to come by in the West and the government helps keep water artificially cheap to benefit this strange segment of American political life.
I could go on at great length about this book, but we don't have all day.  Needless to say the West writ large cannot afford any more goddamn dams, nor likely anything constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Bureau of Reclamation, agriculture should not be practiced the way it is in the West and cannot possibly last, and when you hear Western farmers whining about welfare you should be aware that those people have no perspective and/or no shame.

Read Cadillac Desert.  And don't get swindled by "life is hard for the farmer" whining (especially when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers actually does the right thing, such as help enforce the Clean Water Act).

Anyways, back to Zinke.  He appears to be less psychotic in his denial of man-made climate change than Scott Pruitt (who hates not only clean air, but also clean water, evidently), but he remains friendly to oil and coal.  Zinke seems to want to have it both ways - publicly defending public lands and accepting the logic of man-made climate change, while also denouncing Washingtonian "red tape" and accepting the "drill, baby, drill" rhetoric of recent years.

Who knows for sure which way he will go?  Let's just consider the stakes for now:

The Department of Interior controls 500 million acres of land ― or roughly 20 percent of the U.S. landmass. It oversees a lot of oil, gas and coal development, both onshore and offshore. The agency also manages the outer continental shelf, a point of tension between the fishing and tourism industries and offshore energy developers, particularly after the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama paused oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast and halted new coal leases on public lands ― moves Trump seems likely to overturn.

(emphases added mine)

Before I sign off for the day, let's see how the swamp-draining is going!

Hey, what's this?  Is Donald Trump considering John Bolton for Deputy Secretary of State?  Why, yes he is!

A comparison of Donald Trump's words, contrasted with Donald Trump's actions:

Though Mr. Bolton, 68, is admired by conservatives like Mr. Kristol who agreed with the Bush administration that American military intervention was a necessary force for promoting stability throughout the world, there are also many Republicans who want to leave the Bush years in the past.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump professed to be one of them. He called the war in Iraq “a big fat mistake” and accused the Bush administration of lying to the American people about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Trump brought up those faulty intelligence assessments again last week when he said “the same people” in the American intelligence agencies who were wrong about the war in Iraq believed that Russia had intervened to tip the presidential election to him.

That was especially puzzling, said Greg Thielmann, a State Department veteran and Bolton critic, because “Bolton is, of course, one of these ‘same people.’”

It's so refreshing to see that Trump is truly a unique figure in history, his own man all the way, for sure not just another Republican.

1 comment: