Big Oil Takes Over Marine "Protection" in California

Corporate greenwashing in California under Arnold Schwarzenegger, the “green governor,” has become so bizarre and egregious that no political satirist, comedian or novelist could concoct fictional schemes that rival the reality of current politics in the state.

Only in Schwarzenegger’s California would a governor appoint an oil industry lobbyist to a key administration position supposedly promoting “marine protection” at a time when oil companies are seeking to expand drilling operations off the California coast.

On August 14, Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman announced the Governor’s appointment of Cathy Reheis-Boyd, the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Western States Petroleum Association, as chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force for the remainder of the MLPA South Project.

After having served on the MLPA Task Force for the North Coast, Chrisman and Schwarzenegger apparently thought she had done such a good job of promoting the fast-track MLPA process that he appointed her to the new position.

Under the guise of “marine protection,” Reheis-Boyd and other task force members developed a “marine protected area” plan on the North Central Coast that banned the Kashia Pomo Tribe and other American Indian Nations from harvesting seaweed, mussels and abalone as they had done for centuries from their traditional areas off Stewarts Point and Point Arena. In spite of overwhelming opposition to the plan by North Coast environmentalists, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and Indian Tribes, the Fish and Game Commission voted for the “Integrated Preferred Alternative” (IPA) adopted by the task force on August 5.

More recently, in yet another installment in this living political satire, the Board of Directors of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) on October 16 announced that Reheis-Boyd will assume the role of President of the oil and natural gas industry trade association January 1, 2010.

“No one is more capable, experienced and deserving of leading our Association into the future than Cathy Reheis-Boyd,” said Gary Yesavage, President of Global Manufacturing for Chevron Corporation and Chairman of WSPA’s Board of Directors. “Cathy is a great leader and the Board is 100 percent confident she will continue to be a forceful and successful advocate for our industry.”

The Western States Petroleum Association is the leading petroleum industry trade association in six western states – California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Its twenty-seven members include major integrated oil and natural gas companies as well as independent refiners and marketers, and independent producers. Formed in 1906, it is the oldest petroleum industry trade association in the United States.

Reheis-Boyd, 52, has become the Association’s “primary expert and spokesperson on climate change issues” and has played a key role regionally, nationally and internationally in public policy discussions on these issues, the news release noted.

“Providing our region’s future energy supplies and meeting our climate change objectives are going to be major challenges for all of us, not just the petroleum industry,” said Reheis-Boyd. “WSPA members will be integral to solving those challenges and I am looking forward to helping craft those solutions.”

Ironically, the contact for the association listed at the top of the release was Tupper Hull, the former spokesman for the Westlands Water District. The district, considered by many to the “Darth Vader of California water politics, has continually fought every move by fishermen, tribes and environmentalists to restore salmon, steelhead and other fish populations of the Trinity, Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.

John Lewallen, longtime North Coast environmentalist and seaweed harvester, believes that Reheis-Boyd’s position as an “oil industry superstar” is a conflict of interest with her position as chair of a task force charged with developing marine protected areas (MPAs).

“Reheis Boyd is moving right on up, really advancing the cause of the oil industry,” commented Lewallen. “By setting up these no-take marine reserves and kicking fishermen, Indians, seaweed harvesters and other ocean food providers off traditional areas of the ocean, the Schwarzenegger administration is paving the way for offshore oil drilling. Twenty-three percent of the nation’s offshore oil reserves are off the coast of California. The Point Arena Basin off Mendocino is on track now to be leased for drilling by the Mineral Management Services.”

Lewallen noted that under Reheis-Boyd’s “leadership,” the Southern California community plan for new Marine Protected Areas, developed over 14 months by 64 stakeholders and many community groups, was “thrown in the trash can” on Nov. 10 by the Blue Ribbon Task Force of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.

“The Southern California Blue Ribbon Task Force ‘Integrated Preferred Alternative’ is devastating to fishing communities, but good for offshore oil drilling interests,” said Lewallen, the co-founder of the “Seaweed Rebellion” movement and longtime opponent of offshore oil drilling, the clearcutting of forests and corporate greenwashing.

Reheis-Boyd’s ascendance on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and in the oil industry are no coincidence, since the MLPA task force’s decisions provide a “green” veneer to plans by the oil industry, wave energy companies and corporate aquaculture to privative public trust ocean resources.

“The people of the state of the California are being denied access to sustainable ocean food by the MLPA process,” said Barbara Stephens Lewallen, John’s wife, who will be banned from sustainably harvesting seaweed off Point Arena starting next year, the result of the August vote by Schwarzenegger’s hand picked Fish and Game Commission.

The North Coast Blue Ribbon Task Force is about to be chosen by Governor Schwarzenegger – and Lewallen suggested that the environmental, fishing, tribal and seaweed harvesting communities of the North Coast demand that Catherine Reheis-Boyd should not be appointed as a member, due to her obvious conflicts of interest.

John and Barbara are outraged that a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a group with dark ties to some of the worst corporate greenwashers on the planet, is funding the MLPA Initiative.

“A shadowy group called the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation has taken over the process of setting up Marine Protected Areas, and is moving to finance and control fisheries law enforcement and the making of all fisheries regulations,” added Lewallen. “The sooner Californians unite to stop the private takeover of California’s fisheries management, the better.”

All of those concerned about the privatization of public trust resources and the corruption of the democratic process should join John and Barbara in challenging Schwarzenegger’s appointment of an oil industry “superstar” to chair a process supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean. Has the MLPA initiative under Schwarzenegger, the worst Governor for fish and the environment in California history, become in reality the Marine Life Privatization Act process?

DAN BACHER can be reached at: Danielbacher@fishsniffer.com


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Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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