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Enviros, much to their surprise, like Guv’s water board picks

California environmentalists have been pleasantly surprised by Republican
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointments to the State Water Resources
Control Board. But with two seats now open on the powerful, five-member
panel, they are wondering if their good fortune will hold.

“So far, there’s more transparency, more openness, and there’s more outreach
to certain people, but it’s hard to say what Schwarzenegger’s (state) board
will ultimately be like,” said Jim Metropulos, a legislative representative
for the Sierra Club’s California chapter.

Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, had a strong record for signing environmental
legislation, but his board appointments were often at odds with
environmentalists because they were often seen as overly friendly to
agricultural and industry.

Schwarzenegger’s green leanings have led him to appoint
environmentally-friendly candidates to the state and regional boards. During
his campaign, Schwarzenegger said he would keep the environmental boards
balanced–a promise the industry and agricultural interests want kept with
the two open positions.

Environmentalists’ hopes for the board got a substantial boost this month,
when the panel issued a sweeping order blocking state and federal agencies
that pump water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to southern parts of
the state from tampering with the salinity levels in the delta. A 1968
Supreme Court ruling affirmed California’s decision to protect the waterway,
through which most of California’s drinking water flows, but previous water
boards had not enforced the decision.

“It’s been all downhill since Reagan was governor, (with) both Democrat and
Republican appointments. But in the past couple of months, there’s been a
glimmer of hope, like the board’s awakened from slumbering to take a hard
look at water rights,” said Thomas Graff, California regional director of
Environmental Defense. He has been following the agency almost since its
inception in 1967.

The Water board voted 3 to 1 in favor of the cease-and-desist order, with
Schwarzenegger’s two past appointments–Democrats Tam Doduk, a civil
engineer, and Jerry Secundy, a former federal environmental lawyer– siding
with majority.

The two new appointees would give the board, which controls the allocation
of water for public and private use as well as enforcing California’s high
water quality standards, a 4-1 Schwarzenegger majority. Arthur Baggett, an
environmental lawyer with a water background, will be the sole Davis
holdover.

Schwarzenegger’s staff declined to comment on the vacancies. But several
names are circulating among industry advocates and environmental groups, and
a handful are appearing on both lists.

The most surprising is Cindy Tuck, the assistant secretary for policy at the
state Environmental Protection Agency. Schwarzenegger appointed Tuck to
chair the State Air Resources Board, but in August her appointment was
rejected by the Senate Rules Committee, following protests from
environmentalists who said she had a long history of siding with industry.

“The governor doesn’t want to have another Cindy Tuck incident, but most of
the groups who opposed her were environmental justice groups who seem to be
less involved with this appointment,” said Mike Rogge, Environmental Policy
Director of the California Manufacturers and Trade Association. “We would
support [her]. We’ve felt the Board has been leaning over to the
environmentalists in the past, and we’d like to see it swing back with these
two appointments.”

The Sierra Club opposed Tuck’s appointment to the ARB and said it would
oppose her appointment to the Water Board if the governor named her.

Other names circulating include Charles Hoppin, a member of the California
Rice Industry Association, and several members from Regional Water Control
Boards, including Linda Adams, who has served as a consultant to the state
Senate Agriculture and Water Resources committee. Adams also served as
Davis’ legislative secretary. Industry and environmental interests are given
the opportunity to interview candidates before Schwarzenegger sends them to
the Senate.

Despite his mixed history on appointments, Schwarzenegger won the Sierra
Club and The California League of Conservation Voters’ highest rating for
any Republican in the state for his environmental performance last year. But
that 58 percent rating is still well below Davis’ lowest score of 72 percent
in 2002. In 2003, Davis won a 100 percent rating.

Agriculture, food processing, timber, manufacturing, energy, sewage and
other industries are all subject to permits for water usage from the state
board or from one of the nine regional boards. Since taking office,
Schwarzenegger has appointed a mix of Democrats and Republicans to about a
third of the positions on the regional boards.

The nine regional boards, which all have nine part-time members, tend to be
more responsible for quality enforcement issues as well as creating regional
water use plans. The Central Valley Regional Water Board fined Hilmar Cheese
Co., the largest single-site processor of cheese in the country, $4 million
for repeated violations of chemical leeching into groundwater at its Central
Valley plant.

The ruling sparked a demand for more uniform decisions among the regional
boards, which are largely autonomous unless decisions are contested. Those
disputes are sent to the state board, and then the state Supreme Court. No
formal action has been taken to regulate the decisions of the regional
boards whose members take home $100 a day. State board members earn a salary
of more than $114,000 a year.

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