The Interior Secretary's Past Lobbying Work Scrutinized
A controversial project to raise the height of the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River in Northern California has been a favorite of Westlands Water District for years, but scientists at the U.S. Department of the Interior resisted the idea due to expected environmental impacts on sensitive habitat for endangered and threatened species.
David Bernhardt, the secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, is a former lobbyist for the Westlands Water District, and now the Shasta Dam project's prospects are improving. According to an article by Coral Davenport, "the project is going forward now, in a big win for a powerful consortium of California farmers that stands to profit substantially by gaining access to more irrigation water from a higher dam and has been trying to get the project approved for more than a decade."
According to Davenport, the Shasta Dam isn't the first example of the Interior Department moving forward on a project to the benefit of Bernhardt's former employer. "Mr. Bernhardt also promoted the weakening of an endangered-species regulation that would get Westlands more water, a move that has put him under scrutiny from his department’s inspector general," according to Davenport.
The Shasta Dam provides the main ammunition for this narrative of implied conflict of interest. "Under Mr. Bernhardt’s leadership, the Interior Department has disregarded its own scientific and legal analysis showing that raising the Shasta not only would be environmentally damaging and cost-prohibitive, but it would also be illegal under California law," reports Davenport.
Meanwhile the Fish and Wildlife Service, which works under the umbrella of the Interior Department, is moving forward with a new environmental review for the project, which is already being questioned for neglecting to analyze the effects on salmon habitat downstream of the dam.