In these documents, two former senior level officials in Governor Brown’s administration reveal that they were fired on November 3, 2011 — one day after warning the governor that oil drilling would imperil the state’s groundwater.
In a declaration, Derek Chernow, Brown’s fired acting director of the state Department of Conservation, said he told the Brown Administration that granting permits to oil companies for oilfield injection wells would violate safety provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, reported Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press.
“Chernow’s declaration, obtained by The Associated Press, was contained in an Aug. 21 court filing in a lawsuit brought by a group of Central Valley farmers who allege that oil production approved by Brown’s administration has contaminated their water wells. The lawsuit also cites at least $750,000 in contributions that oil companies made within months of the firings to Brown’s campaign for a state income tax increase,” according to Knickmeyer.
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The Committee to Protect Agricultural Water filed their civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit in Federal Court on June 3, 2015. On the following day, Mark Nechodom, the controversial director of the California Department of Conservation who replaced Chernow, resigned.
The RICO Complaint by the committee, a citizen organization composed of Central Valley farmers and “individuals concerned about California’s drinking water,” claims that Governor Brown’s Office ordered the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The lawsuit alleges that “the Oil Companies, Governor’s Office, Director of Conservation Mark Nechodom, State Oil & Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic, Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department Lorelei Oviatt, DOGGR, WSPA, CIPA, and others known and unknown, formed an “enterprise” (“the Enterprise”) to achieve through illegal means the goal of increasing oil production and maximizing profits and tax revenue by allowing the Oil Companies to inject salt water into fresh water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
In a memo to David Albright of the US Environmental Protection Agency that was obtained by the AP, Elena Miller, the fired supervisor DOGGR, points out how draft regulations proposed by the Brown administration — a “proposed interim solution” to the “timely issuance of individual well permits” — resembled documents created by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).
“This (referring to the draft regulations) was provided to us during a meeting at the Governor’s Office on 10/28/11 — prepared by Lianne Randolph of the CA Natural Resources Agency. I agree with your point that this has similarities to what was prepared by WSPA late September/early October,” wrote Miller.
For those not familiar with the WSPA, it is the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento. Last year, the WSPA spent a record $8.9 million on lobbying — double what it spent in the previous year.
Since 2011, the Brown administration has come under fire from the US EPA for failing to protect groundwater under the federal law. In addition, after Brown fired the two oil regulators, oil companies made at least $750,000 in contributions to Brown’s campaign to increase state taxes, according to Californians Against Fracking.
Brown’s spokesman, Evan Westrup, told the Associated Press that the allegations in the documents obtained by AP are “baseless.”
“The expectation — clearly communicated — was and always has been full compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Westrup claimed Thursday.
Anti-fracking activists disagreed with Brown administration claims that the allegations are “baseless.” Following the revelation, Californians Against Fracking issued a statement from Adam Scow, California Director for Food and Water Watch.
“Gov. Jerry Brown intentionally allowed California’s groundwater to be contaminated, and subsequently accepted financial backing from the oil industry for his political efforts,” said Scow. “The cracks in Jerry Brown’s leadership on climate change, already demonstrated by his support for fracking, now go beyond hypocrisy. Firing two watchdogs in order to allow irresponsible and illegal dumping of toxic oil wastewater in California takes the state back to pay-to-play politics as usual.”
The documents obtained in the RICO lawsuit also provide further evidence of how, once again, the regulated have captured the regulatory apparatus in California. Just as Big Oil has captured the Department of Conservation, agribusiness tycoons, the Metropolitan Water District and the State Water Contractors have also captured the California Department of Water Resources.