Over the years, Drakes Bay Oyster Company has marketed itself as an environmentally sustainable business that Bay Area foodies should embrace. But late last year, the bubble burst on the oyster farm’s image when the Express revealed that the company had teamed up with a group that has close ties to the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers in its legal fight against the Obama administration. The right-wing group, Cause of Action, then used the oyster farm’s case to push for stronger rights for private businesses operating on public land. This arrangement understandably made some local foodies and environmentalists uneasy. And that uneasiness deepened last month when PBS NewsHour ran a lengthy report on the relationship between the oyster farm and the Koch Brothers-linked group.
The damage to the oyster farm’s well-crafted image — along with its increasingly diminished standing in the Bay Area foodie and environmental communities — was apparently too much for it to bear. And so last week, Drakes Bay Oyster Company severed ties with Cause of Action, after the group sent a searing complaint letter to PBS demanding that it turn over video recordings used in its news report and threatening to sue the organization. (The oyster farm’s owners wrote a separate letter to PBS, stating that, while they didn’t like the NewsHour report, they strongly disagreed with Cause of Action’s complaint letter.)
Yet even though Cause of Action is no longer playing a role in the oyster farm’s legal battle with the US Department of the Interior, other Koch Brothers-linked groups are still involved in the fight and have rallied to the oyster farm’s cause. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based conservative group that has received funding from the Koch Brothers, has publicly declared that it intends to help the oyster farm in its attempt to remain open at Point Reyes National Seashore.
In addition, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — a group that was founded by the Koch Brothers, has been a been a major funder of the Tea Party, and spent untold millions last year attempting to defeat President Obama — produced a video earlier this year championing the oyster farm’s efforts. In the video, AFP portrayed then-US Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision last November to allow the oyster farm’s lease to expire at Point Reyes as a “federal land grab” — even though the farm operates on public land and had been told repeatedly that its lease would not be renewed.
Conservative Republicans in Congress also are still fighting on behalf of the oyster farm. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has been attempting to extend the farm’s lease through legislation that would also green-light the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, expand offshore oil drilling, and open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration (the Koch Brothers have made billions in oil and natural gas drilling). The oyster farm’s owners, Kevin and Nancy Lunny, also have repeatedly appeared on Fox News to promote their campaign. And they’re still represented in court by law firms that also have fought for increased development on California’s coastline.
In short, the oyster farm may have cut ties with one conservative group, but it’s still being backed by plenty of others.
Moreover, Cause of Action, which is run by a former Koch Brothers staffer and refuses to disclose its donors, provided the oyster farm with hundreds of thousands of dollars — perhaps more — in legal services for free. That pro bono legal help included leading the court effort to overturn Salazar’s decision. Currently, the case is before the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which could issue a decision at any time. And if the oyster farm wins a favorable ruling, it would be largely the result of Cause of Action’s efforts. Such a ruling also could provide a big win for corporate interests operating on public property.
And even if the oyster farm loses at the Ninth Circuit, it will still have to depend on right-wing interests to remain open. The oyster farm is expected to appeal its case all the way to the US Supreme Court, and once it gets there, it likely will only prevail with the help of the court’s conservative justices. In other words, the oyster farm’s fate is inextricably tied to conservatives and corporations who want to weaken environmental regulations, especially on public land. And the question is: How long will liberal foodies and environmentalists keep their heads in the sand and keep supporting the oyster farm’s efforts?
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