Two-faced Fish in a Barrel
Submitted by lgc_admin on Wed, 06/20/2012 - 20:45.
By Lloyd G. Carter
"They are putting the heat on me. I was dumpin' in the river for years and years and I got by in good shape but now I've spent millions cleanin' the water up. I did it in Washington. I had to do it in Oregon. It's the law of the land now. Mighta killed a few fish and suckers but never hurt anything. They're blowin' holes around the feedlot in Washington to see if I'm pollutin' the goddamn water. Maybe we won't be able to feed cattle anywhere any more, I don't know. The problem is there's too many goddamn regulations. Now, if you build a manger you got to go to town and ask 'em for permission to do it."
Idaho potato, livestock and fertilizer kingpin J.R. Simplot talking about pollution at his feedlots in a 1998 interview with Range Magazine ["The Cowboy Spirit on America's Outback"]. Simplot died in 2008 at the age of 99, with a worth estimated at $3.8 billion.
On June 14, 2012 Jon Stewart's Daily Show on the Comedy Channel ran a six-minute segment (available at www.thedailyshow.com) on the deformities in trout in eastern Idaho caused by the trace element selenium in mining wastes from the J.R. Simplot Smoky Canyon Mine. Daily Show Fake Reporter Aasif Mandvi - in a segment titled "A Simple Plot" - skewered the Simplot Company and the EPA, accusing Simplot of a corporate conspiracy. Mandvi pointed out that Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, whose district includes the Simplot mine, also chairs the House subcommittee which oversees the EPA budget.
Officials of both Simplot and EPA called police when Mandvi (in one instance wearing a two-headed fish costume) and his crew showed up for interviews. Even famed corporate whistleblower Erin Brockovich was interviewed and urged Mandvi to keep blowing the whistle.
However, unmentioned in the segment was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), whose experts had debunked a Simplot consulting report which claimed the creeks receiving the tainted mining wastes could actually receive even higher levels of selenium. What follows is an explanation of why you did not get to see the FWS scientist who blew the lid off the deeply flawed Simplot report on The Daily Show, why FWS's institutional timidity seems deeply ingrained, and why the selenium pollution problem is far bigger than the Simplot mine.
But first some background:
According to a May 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report:
Since the early 1900s, phosphate rock—the only economically viable source of phosphorus used to make detergents, herbicides, and fertilizer—has been mined on predominantly federal land in southeastern Idaho, which is part of the Western Phosphate Field. The Western Phosphate Field comprises about 86 million acres of land in the Rocky Mountains from Utah and Colorado stretching north into Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. However, in 1996 selenium—a potentially toxic chemical that leached out of the waste rock taken from phosphate mines—was discovered in southeastern Idaho, and since then an estimated 600 head of livestock (including horses, cattle, and sheep) have died after ingesting plants or surface water containing high concentrations of selenium. [fn. omitted] As was common practice at these mines, to facilitate the removal of the phosphate rock, operators had used the waste rock, called overburden, as backfill and placed it in large external waste rock piles or in adjacent valleys. [fn omitted].
The part of the sentence above in red is incorrect. Selenium was identified in Southeast Idaho soils as early as 1906. It was livestock deaths due to selenium that were discovered in 1996.
The GAO report said that in southeastern Idaho, selenium contamination has been measured at three of the five active phosphate mines and at all 13 inactive mines.
The GAO report also said:
Over the last 16 years, federal agencies and mine operators have primarily focused on assessing the extent of selenium contamination in Idaho and have conducted only limited remediation actions. The agencies have conducted or overseen high-level assessments of contamination at 16 of the 18 mines where federal agencies are overseeing mining operations or cleanup activities, and at several of these mines the agencies and mine operators are now conducting more detailed assessments, known as remedial investigations and feasibility studies. However, no final cleanup actions have been chosen at any of the sites, and according to officials, most sites will require years of additional investigative work before final cleanup actions are selected. Federal agencies reported that they have spent about $19 million since 2001 to oversee these assessments and undertake a limited number of remediation actions, roughly half of which has been reimbursed by the mine operators under cleanup settlement agreements. Mine operators told GAO that they too have spent millions of dollars in additional assessment and remediation work but did not provide documentary evidence to support these claims. Agency officials told GAO that they have not developed estimates for the remaining cleanup costs because final cleanup remedies have not yet been identified. However, their informal estimates suggest that remaining cleanup costs may total hundreds of millions of dollars for the contamination from mining in Idaho. [Emphasis added.]
The GAO report also said some of the mine operators or leaseholders may simply file for bankruptcy, leaving the American taxpayers to fund the cleanup. Simplot is the most high profile of the mine operations, which also include chemical giant Monsanto, FMC and Agrium.
"[T]he fact remains that after years of study and millions of dollars spent, the agencies and mine operators are still years away from fully understanding the extent of contamination in the area and many more years from completing actual mine cleanup," The GAO report said.
During the last 16 years of studying the problem, very little has been done in the way of cleanup, and remediation may not even began for several more years. Meanwhile, all of the active mines continue to operate and more selenium is poisoning the groundwater, which seeps into creeks which feed the Blackfoot and Snake rivers. All the tainted mines are now Superfund sites but under Clean Water Act law mining companies can petition for a site specific rule to continue operations, if they can show there will be no further environmental harm from contaminant dumping.
In 2003, Simplot signed a cleanup agreement with the federal government, including the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. In 2006, Simplot estimated cleanup costs at its Smoky Mountain mine at $112 million and launched another 694 page "study" (2,700 pages with appendices) that was completed last year, which included the two-headed trout picture buried in an appendix. That Simplot report, submitted to the state of Idaho in August of 2010, was conducted by Formation Environmental of Boulder, Colo. and Habitech of Laramie, Wyoming. Those consultants claimed the current selenium safety standard for the nearby creeks could be raised to 22 parts per million in fish eggs, which is the equivalent of 11 parts per billion in the water, more than double the EPA's safe limit limit of 5 parts per billion. Several experts said the safety limit for fish should actually be as low as 2 parts per billion.
Ironically, the control group of trout raised in a hatchery also included two-headed fish. Joe Skorupa , the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's selenium expert, acknowledged two-headed fish do occur in the wild on occasion and it may be possible the two-headed trout was not poisoned by selenium. Skorupa said this could not be determined conclusively because Simplot consultants have refused to turn over all of their research data to the government.
However, Skorupa said there is no doubt the selenium levels in Crow and Sage Creeks, caused elevated cranial and facial deformities. Pregnant fish in those two creeks were captured and placed in hatcheries where the fry (newborn) were studied for deformities. Skorupa said that if tissues levels of selenium in fish were at the level sought by Simplot, the deformity rate would be an estimated 70 percent of the fish. While there are state warning signs at those creeks that say children under seven should not consume the fish, there is no similar warning for pregnant women.
When the scathing Skorupa team review report, which was peer reviewed by three independent experts, was released to Congressional committees at the end of January, Simplot spokesman David Cuoio, claimed, "We're not aware of any two-headed fish near our facilities. I'm not sure who took those pictures or where they were taken." Cuoio, obviously, later had to backtrack. Simplot submitted its proposal to raise the selenium standard to the state of Idaho on January 30 of this year. The Smoky Canyon mine is scheduled to be shut down by 2017 but Simplot wants to build another mine.
More than a year ago, on March 30, 2011, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, after prompting from Idaho fishermen and environmentalists, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, asked the FWS to review the Simplot report. Skorupa, who has been studying selenium toxicology in wildlife for nearly three decades, headed a FWS team which concluded the Simplot consulting report was badly flawed science.
In January of this year, the Skorupa team's review was ready to be sent to Sen. Boxer's Committee and the EPA but needed approval from the Department of Interior, parent agency of the FWS, and the White House. My sources tell me the White House had no problem with releasing the report but asked that it be delayed until after the President's State of the Union message, which was delivered on January 24.
Significantly, FWS did not do a press release, although two-headed fish should be newsworthy. Apparently, FWS top officials naively hoped the bad news could be kept quiet.
However, word of the Skorupa report quickly leaked out. On February 4, I reported on my website that Patrick Porgans, a California State Water Resources Control Board watchdog and top notch investigator, had broken the story of the two-headed fish. Porgans had been sitting on the story for months in order to protect his sources. Porgan's detailed report can be found at his website: www.planetarysolutionaires.org. Reuters News Service, the European-based agency, also ran a story, which was reprinted at the Scientific American magazine website. Major American newspaper outlets and major TV news organizations were strangely silent.
Then New York Times science reporter Leslie Kaufman began looking into the story. She called me in mid-February and we spent about 20 minutes on the phone. I told her selenium pollution was a national problem, not just one confined to a few creeks in Idaho. She told me she would be just focusing on the Simplot mine story for now. (I later learned Skorupa had also urged Kaufman to look at selenium pollution nationwide from coal mines in West Virginia to irrigation of high selenium soils in the western San Joaquin Valley.)
Kaufman's well-written story was published on February 22. It can be read HERE. Kaufman wrote:
" The service’s review, released last month, was scathing, describing the study as “biased” and “highly questionable.” Joseph Skorupa, the service’s selenium expert, cited a “lack of valid field controls” and the absence of any analysis of the selenium’s impact on reptiles, birds or the 12 other types of fish in the creeks’ waters. Most troubling, he wrote, was that the researchers systematically undermeasured the rate of serious deformities in baby fish, which were pictured only in an appendix."
Kaufman quoted Skorupa's report but FWS officials permitted her to speak to Skorupa only on background and not quote him directly.
Kaufman noted Alan L. Prouty, Simplot’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs, declined to comment beyond saying that the agency’s review was “totally outside the regulatory process.” In other words, Simplot's sweetheart relationship with EPA was being impeded by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and FWS should butt out.
Clearly, Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the House subcommittee which oversees not only the EPA budget but also the FWS budget, was not happy. Simpson is rightfully concerned about loss of jobs in his state, although he seems less concerned about poisoning livestock, deer and fish. It should be pointed out Simpson receives tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the mining companies, including $10,000 from Monsanto and $5,000 from Simplot in the 2011-2012 campaign cycle alone.
So it is not surprising that, Rep. Simpson called in Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe for a meeting on March 29 to discuss the Smoky Canyon Mine/selenium problem. Congressional sources tell me Simpson leaned on Director Ashe to negotiate a deal to take wolves off the endangered species list and held up Ashe's appointment as director until that was done. Simpson said anyone should be free to shoot wolves if they harmed livestock.
In a February 14, 2011 press release, Rep. Simpson said "It makes no sense to call wolves in Idaho and Montana an endangered species. Not only do wolf populations far exceed recovery goals, but without proper management those populations have grown to the point where they are adversely impacting other wildlife populations in the region and wreaking havoc for ranchers, hunters, and public land users in Idaho."
When Ashe appeared this March before Simpson's house subcommittee, which oversees FWS funding, Simpson fumed: “Whether it’s to save snails or slickspot peppergrass, the last thing Idahoans want is the federal government telling them what they can’t do on their own land or otherwise disrupting a sustainable way of life they’ve known for generations. There has got to be a better way to properly balance recovery with people’s livelihoods.” Environmentalists and wildlife groups strongly disagree with the claim that wolf populations in Idaho and Montana are thriving.
Chris Tollefson, Chief of Communications for the FWS, would later claim he was unaware of the private March 29 meeting between Simpson and Ashe in which they discussed the Smoky Canyon Simplot mine. Tollefson would not allow me to interview Ashe.
On March 2, a Daily Show producer, who had read the New York Times story, called Skorupa and asked for an interview. Skorupa said he would do an interview providing he obtained permission from his superiors. Skorupa emailed Tollefson to tell him about the call. Skorupa's superior, Roger Helm, also emailed Tollefson a short time later.
Helm wrote that the Daily Show interview
"is a great opportunity for the FWS, DOI [Department of Interior] and the Fed gov. The message is NOT about us and EPA or what EPA did or did not or should or should not do, it's about dedicated government scientists digging deep into a flawed report and exposing the flaws that were buried behind a large facade of technical gobbled gook. It's a win for the fish, wildlife, and human population of Idaho and for many other areas in the US that might have been exposed to very high selenium levels, but for the work of federal scientists. I'm confident Joe can deliver that message and I hope he is given the chance."
Christine Eustis, Deputy Director for External Affairs wrote back to Skorupa and Helm: "Joe and Roger: thanks for your comments. The decision of whether we do this national interview will rest with DOI and the Director." [Emphasis added.] As will be shown below, this contradicts the claim of FWS "Communications Chief" Chris Tollefson, who asserted he alone made the decision to block Skorupa from appearing on the Daily Show, albeit with concurrence from his superiors.
On April 25, I posted a blog entry about cowardice in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
I've learned staffers of comedian Jon Stewart of the Daily Show have been poking around about the two-headed trout story and wanted to interview Skorupa, unquestionably one of the premier selenium wildlife toxicology experts in the U.S. Skorupa, now working in the Washington, D.C. area, was denied permission to speak to the folks at the Daily Show by his superiors in the FWS Director's Office. [Emphasis in red added.]
I also speculated: "So is acting FWS director Rowan Gould a coward when it comes to defending his scientists or does he rationalize his muzzling of Skorupa for political/financial reasons?" On May 16, I received the following email:
I am the [Fish and Wildlife] Service official who dealt directly with Joe Skorupa in response to the Daily Show request, and I can tell you emphatically (and provide documentation) to show that he was NOT prohibited IN ANY WAY from going on the show. In fact, he was told explicitly that he had the right to do so. I'm extremely disappointed that you did not afford us the opportunity to respond to these allegations before publishing your blog. Fairness and ethical journalism demands no less. As things stand, I respectfully request the opportunity to respond in the same forum on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Service. I'm happy to talk to you any time about this issue. Please feel free to call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx. [Emphasis added.]
Chief of Communications
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
I then immediately emailed Mr. Tollefson back and stated "If you are correct I, of course, will run a correction/apology and will afford you an opportunity to post something on my website unedited."
The next day I asked for the documentation he referred to in his initial email and he sent me the following email exchange between himself and Skorupa:
Per your request, I am forwarding you this email I sent to Joe Skorupa concerning the request he received to be on the Daily Show. I'm going to forward you another email that further articulates what I told my leadership and Joe. [This was never done.]
A few points I would like to emphasize:
As these emails demonstrate, at no time was Joe ever told he could not appear on the show. In fact, I made it clear that he had the right to do so.
However, as an agency we have the right and obligation to decide who represents us in an official capacity in front of the public, as well as the method in which we do so. I made clear to Joe that he didn't need our permission to participate in the show, as long as he made it clear that he was not speaking for the agency in this venue, and that his personal views may not necessarily reflect those of the Service. Which is objectively true.
We have strongly supported Joe throughout this process, and we stand behind his report and its conclusions. The report speaks for itself, as an official scientific document and we believe it does a great job of analyzing the Simplot report. For the reasons I outlined in this message, the Daily Show was not a venue that supported what we were trying to accomplish in this process. But I have never, and will never, be in the position of telling any of our people that they cannot speak to the media about their work. In fact, I've spent more than a year revising and updating our an agency-wide media policy to clearly and explicitly articulate to our employees that they have this right.
And for the record, Rowan Gould hasn't been our Acting Director in nearly a year. Dan Ashe was confirmed as our Director in July of last year, and for nearly a decade before that played a leading role as Science Advisor in strengthening our agency's scientific integrity policies and practices. If you had visited our website or otherwise investigated this issue, that would have become apparent.
For these reasons, I feel you owe the Service an apology and a correction.
Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss this further - or for information on any future issue you may be contemplating as a subject. We're here to help.
Also attached was Tollefson's email to Skorupa, dated March 15, as follows:
I've talked this over with our leadership, and I feel that the Daily Show is not the venue, and this is not the issue, to be comfortable with you speaking in an official capacity. Since you've asked for a written response, I'm going to explain why I've come to this conclusion.
In communications, we always start out by asking two things - what are we trying to accomplish by communicating, and who is the audience we need to influence for that communication to be effective?
From what you've told me, our objective is to work with the action agencies to see that a site-specific standard for selenium is set that protects fish and wildlife. I think our key audience for that objective is the EPA and the Forest Service. I don't see how either our objective or our audience is reached effectively by your appearance on the Daily Show.
As you know better than I do, we have provided this technical analysis at the request of the EPW Committee in an advisory capacity. We are not the decisionmaker here, and I believe we have an obligation to respect the process. The report, and its conclusions, have been conveyed to the action agencies in an appropriate manner and speak for themselves. Frankly, you've already delivered our key messages to our target audience in a way they are most likely to receive it.
Of course, you still have the right to go on the show and express yourself in an unofficial capacity, as long as you make it clear that you do not speak for the agency. But I would urge you to take a moment to think about the message your appearance will send.
You've done a great service with your report, and I know that we as an agency continue to strongly support your expert analysis. The Service's priority is to build science capacity and strengthen our ability to make credible, science-driven management decisions. Your work is an example of how important good science is to wildlife conservation. That work, and the work of other Service biologists, is serious business, and I don't see how its importance would be effectively or appropriately conveyed by an appearance on the Daily Show.
Thanks for hearing me out. I hope you understand where I'm coming from. If the producer wants to talk to me, you can send him my way. As they say, the buck stops here.
[Emphasis in red added.]
Following several phone calls with Daily Show producer Brennan Schroff, in which he meticulously picked my brain to make sure his facts were correct, I stated I would not publicly respond to Tollefson on this website until after the two-headed trout report aired.
Did the "buck stop" actually with Chris Tollefson and his conclusion that Skorupa
appearing on The Daily Show to explain the toxicology of selenium was "inappropriate," as he told me on the phone? Did I owe him an apology? I wasn't sure so I started doing a little more digging.
I did immediately discover that Rowen Gould was not the acting director of Fish and Wildlife when the two-headed trout controversy arose (although the FWS website identified him as such) and that the actual current director is Dan Ashe. For that, I apologize to Mr. Gould and correct the record here. (The FWS website indentified him as such and it had not been corrected when I checked it in April.)
Second, I learned that Skorupa, indeed, had the right to go on the Daily Show as a private citizen as long as he made it clear he did not speak for his agency, pursuant to new transparency rules at the Department of Interior, the parent agency of Fish and Wildlife.
The ban on Skorupa's appearing on Jon Stewart's hit fake news show was limited to his official capacity. In other words, he could not say that his agency supported his scientific review of the Simplot consultant's study even though Tollefson has made it clear to me several times that the agency absolutely supports Skorupa's review as top notch science. When I wrote he had been blocked from appearing on the comedy news show I meant in his "official" capacity. I was simply unaware of the new policy allowing government scientists to speak out as private citizens, providing they disassociate themselves from their agency.
So what exactly is going on here? I did some more digging, checking with agency and congressional sources, and learned a great deal more about the machinations of FWS officials in attempting to block Skorupa from going on The Daily Show or speaking publicly for the agency during his "background" interview with the New York Times.
I had concluded in my initial blog on this subject that FWS's timidity was probably due to fear of Idaho Republican Congressman Mike Simpson, who represents the congressional district where the Simplot mine pollution is occurring. And who also happens to chair a subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations which oversees the budget of both the FWS and its parent agency, Interior. What a coincidence, right?
On May 23, I did a 45-minute phone interview with Tollefson in which - between intermittent bursts of cursing on his part - he claimed virtual sole responsibility in his role as "chief of communications" for the decision to muzzle Skorupa in his "official" capacity and denied any intent to intimidate Skorupa to keep him from going on the Daily Show as a private citizen.
Email traffic on this subject at the Fish and Wildlife Service was the subject of a Simplot Freedom of Information Act request and is now in the public domain. It shows that while Tollefson may have promoted the idea that Skorupa should be kept off The Daily Show, it was hardly his decision despite his claims that it was solely his idea and his superiors merely concurred.
My sources tell me it was Elizabeth Stevens, Assistant Director for External Affairs for the FWS, who, supported by Director Dan Ashe, nixed Skorupa's request to appear on the Daily Show. Stevens is the daughter of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens who was repeatedly lampooned and ridiculed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, first for Stevens' description of the Internet as a "series of tubes" and later for his criminal indictment on charges of defrauding the federal government when he got some free upgrades for a house he owned in Alaska. Ted Stevens, who later had his criminal conviction overturned, was defeated for re-election in 2008 (thanks, in part, to Stewart) and was tragically killed in a 2010 plane crash.
When I mentioned the possibility that it was actually Beth Stevens who nixed Skorupa's appearance on the Daily Show, Tollefson screamed at me, "Goddamn it. I'm pissed off. Are you going to run that?" He then vehemently contended that Stevens or Director Ashe simply signed off on his decision to block Skorupa from appearing on Stewart's show.
As my questions got tougher, there was another burst of cursing. It was the oddest interview I have ever had with a press spokesman in my 40 years in the news business. Usually, spokesmen or spokeswomen (called "flaks" by seasoned reporters) are overly friendly or at least polite. I have never had one swear at me. It sounded like Tollefson, in his role as a soldier falling on his sword for the bossses, was becoming unhinged.
I told Tollefson that President Obama, the First Lady, and many other notable people (including, I later learned, Tollefson's top boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar) had appeared on the Daily Show. Was it inappropriate for those people to be on the show, I asked? "I don't care what other people do," Tollefson responded. "I'm not going to dissect our media strategy with you."
Tollefson said he was unaware that FWS Director Dan Ashe had met with Rep. Mike Simpson to discuss the Smoky Mine report. The Simplot mine is in Simpson's Idaho district.
The next day Tollefson sent me the following email:
I want to let you know that I regret the tone of some of my comments to you yesterday. I've worked extremely hard over the past several years, with the strong support of our Director and senior leadership, to clearly articulate and strengthen the right of our employees to speak about their work. To be accused of exactly the opposite is immensely frustrating for me on a personal and professional level. Unfortunately, some of that frustration showed yesterday and it didn't serve either of us well to get off the track the way we did.
I still believe you should issue a correction and a retraction of your previous post, but I'm done arguing with you about it. I've made my case the best I can, and have concluded that there's no benefit for either me or the Fish and Wildlife Service in continuing this discussion. Therefore, we'll be declining future requests for interviews in an official capacity.
I wanted nonetheless to make a few points clear.
We continue to strongly support Joe and the work of our contaminants program, and will protect his right to speak for himself about the Simplot report and other aspects of the valuable work he does for this agency. We stand by the report and its conclusions, but we disagree with him about how to respond to the Daily Show. Such disagreements are part of the work in any agency, and Joe is entitled to his opinions - just as we are entitled to decide how best to respond to media inquiries on behalf of the Service. We'll continue to arrange media interviews for him, and ask him to speak on behalf of the agency wherever we feel it appropriate - as we have done repeatedly in the past.
As I told you and the record confirms, Joe was never told he couldn't appear on the Daily Show, and nothing has changed in that regard. The fact that he was told he could not appear on the show to speak on behalf of the Service in no way abridges his right to offer his own views and opinions about his work as a scientific professional and a technical expert. If the Daily Show is still interested in doing a story, Joe is welcome to appear and to identify himself as a Service employee and the author of this Service report, as long as he makes it clear that his views do not necessarily reflect those of the agency. I continue to believe that the Daily Show is not the right venue for us on this issue, a position that is shared by our leadership. If requested to appear in an official capacity, our response will continue to be that the report speaks for itself. [Emphasis in red added.]
So, I never got to interview Ashe or Beth Stevens, or even the FWS ethics officer. It's pretty clear to me that Ashe, described by several FWS sources as highly political and willing go to almost any length to appease Congressman Simpson (I called Simpson's office but they did not return my call). It is Simpson, after all, who controls the Fish and Wildlife Service budget and my California FWS connections tell me there are rumors that Ashe may slash the 2013-2014 budget of the branch of the agency where Skorupa works.
Skorupa ultimately decided not to appear on the Daily Show. He interpreted Tollefson's memo to "think" about it as a veiled threat. Skorupa said he and his immediate superiors all felt the memo warning was a "clear message that upper managment at FWS would not be happy" if he went on the show as a private citizen.
In my interview with him, Tollefson did repeatedly state that no retaliatory action will be taken against Skorupa. This is all Deja Vu for Skorupa. In the late 1980s, Skorupa was removed from his assignment to investigate poisoning of wildlife by selenium-tainted agricultural waste water in the Tulare Basin of California. The reason? Corporate growers including the 200,000-acre J.G. Boswell ranch, complained to their congressmen that Skorupa's investigation would cost them cleanup money or might result in some bad lands being idled.
Marv Hoyt, Idaho Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, says it is pretty obvious that Ashe and the FWS are under the thumb of Rep. Simpson.
Ironically, this month is the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Silent Spring", the landmark book about pesticide pollution written by Rachel Carson, who worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service for 16 years, before going on to write her famous book. Past leaders of the nation's wildlife agency have basked in the glow of her accomplishments on one hand, while presiding over the continuing decline of wildlife due to large scale pollution from mining and irrigated petrochemical agriculture.
At FWS's National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, there is a virtual shrine to Carson and her heroic efforts to point out the dangers of DDT and other pesticides, dangerous not only to wildlife but to humans also. (There is also a federal wildlife refuge in Maine named after her.)
The Training Center's website states:
Rachel Carson's sixteen years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are now largely forgotten. This is unfortunate because many of Carson's ideas and writing skills originated while working for the nation's only wildlife conservation agency . . . Her legacy can be found in the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service's own Division of Environmental Contaminants.
Ironically, retired FWS employees tell me FWS leadership over the last two decades has been trying to eliminate the Environmental Contaminants Branch (where Skorupa works, coincidentally), claiming pollution issues are better left to the EPA and the individual states. And we all know what a wonderful job EPA and the state of Idaho are doing to get the phosphate mines in southeast Idaho to clean up their acts.
The truth is Rachel Carson is probably rolling over in her grave now at the spectacle of her old agency hiding from a fake news show on television, and routinely caving in to politicians protecting polluters. She know doubt would be wondering whether her old employer would have tried to block her book from being published if she had written it while working for the agency.
And J.R. Simplot? He's probably laughing in his grave because his company (turned over to his children) has been allowed to keep polluting the creeks near his mines for the last 16 years while EPA, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and, yes, the Fish and Wildlife Service, have dithered while "studying" the problem. It is the phenomena of endless studies, no results. The status quo is that selenium pollution is occurring all over America, from Idaho mines to West Virginia coal mines to the industrialized farms of Central California. Local, state and federal agencies seem powerless to halt the pollution in the face of the mighty economic and political power of mining and agribusiness interests.
No doubt fuming in his grave is U.S. Geological Survey geologist David Love - the Grand Old Man of Rocky Mountains geology - who warned in a famous 1949 memo that disturbing high selenium soils in the American West would let the genie out of the bottle. I interviewed Love in the late 80s. He worked in Caspar, Wyoming and died in 2002. IN my interview he said he was concerned about the high miscarriage rate among women in Wyoming and speculated about a possible link to selenium in the soils there.
Those of us in California who for the last 30 years have been witnessing the continuing selenium pollution from irrigated agriculture on high selenium soils, know what footdraggers the state and federal regulatory agencies can be. After all, selenium is still being dumped in the San Joaquin River.
It turns out a two-headed fish is not enough to bring the "regulators" to their senses. We need some two-headed children.
Just in case you're wondering, below is a picture of a phosphate mine. I love how the tallest tree in the background is leaning over, no doubt recoiling from the abomination below.