Date: Nov 01, 2014
Magazine:
November 2014: Drought Diagnosis--Difficult Year Ahead

PROPOSITION 1 is on the state ballot and has a good chance to win  while two water bills passed in Congress — S. 2198 AND H.R. 3964 — have yet to be reconciled.  Will we see federal drought emergency legislation passed before the end of the year?

First I’d like to thank all the growers with whom I’ve worked over the years, and also thank the Western Growers Board of Directors and the leadership team beginning with Tom Nassif and his staff in Washington.  You’ve all done a great job advocating for water and immigration reform.  I consider Western Growers to be a voice of reason and a valuable ally as we collectively try to ensure more reliable water deliveries for California agricultural and municipal users and fix a broken immigration system.  Your efforts are appreciable and deserve notice.

Obviously, we are dealing with a devastating drought.  If we don’t get some operational flexibility and we have another drought year, it will be catastrophic.  Therefore, it’s absolutely critical we all work together and do what we can within our ability to prevent that from happening.  If we have operational flexibility, when it does rain in the valley this winter and snows in the mountains we can take advantage of any pulse flows of water flowing through the delta and valley.  We can try to make it a lifesaver of sorts given the overall decimation we are facing next year.

To that end, the legislation I have been working on with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer and House Republicans, is making good progress.  H.R. 3964, Rep. Valadao’s bill was voted on and passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February, and S. 2198, Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer’s bill passed the U.S. Senate in May.  Those two bills are the basis, more or less, of the work that has been taking place over the last several months by Republican staff, Senator Feinstein’s and Senator Boxer’s staff and Scott Petersen of my staff to address the effects of the drought.  We have been consulting with federal and California resource management officials for feedback on this legislation because we need a bill the president can sign.  It’s my hope that by the end of October or shortly thereafter, we can have an agreement between the House and Senate so when we are back in session on November 12, we will be in a position to do something.  So far I can say there has been a good level of cooperation and collaboration among us, and I think we are getting a better response from the Administration.

In addition, we are working on efforts for individual projects that would provide financial relief like short-term funding opportunities for water districts that could include state and federal monies.  Six months ago, Gov. Brown signed a measure for approximately $600 million of funding and the president announced approximately $160 million in funding during his visit to the Central Valley in February.

For the long-term and complimentary to the state’s efforts, we must advance the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and the Delta Plan, which are outside the scope of this legislative effort.  There is also a general consensus to move forward on a seismic retrofit at the San Luis Reservoir and to raise the dam 10 feet to provide more storage capacity for water needs south of the Delta.  Efforts are also being made to come to an agreement on a drainage settlement on the west side of the valley.  Moreover, the board of Western Growers and those in other agricultural associations are working to ensure the water bond (Proposition 1), which will provide $2.7 billion in surface storage funding, among other benefits to agriculture, passes in California. I am a strong supporter.

 

What do you think about our prospects for getting immigration reform?

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think we would have made as much progress as we have made (as frustrating as the status quo is) had it not been for the successful negotiations led by Tom Nassif and other agricultural organizations throughout the country and the UFW.  The immigration bill in the Senate was passed more than 400 days ago.  When the bill initially passed, many of us felt that by this time we would have been able to work out an agreement with the House.  But our attempts to fix the broken immigration system have been unsuccessful in the House of Representatives.  I am not a very partisan person, but the facts are the facts and I just can’t help thinking the reason we have not made better progress in the House is because of the politics, primarily within the Republican Conference.  I know the Speaker and the Republican leadership would like to solve this problem, but I think we have a case where political reasons are sadly preventing House Republican leadership from taking the kind of action they want to take for good public policy reasons.

We’ve got to fix our broken immigration system.  The Senate bill had strong bipartisan support from business, law enforcement, religious organizations and  labor.  I don’t know when we have had such bipartisan support on an issue, but we continue to be stymied in the House.  Whether or not the House leadership attempts to try to bring something up after the elections, I don’t know.  We have been hearing rumors that a lot of that will depend on the outcome of the November 4 election.

Then there is, of course, the president using his executive authority in November to provide some additional relief for the 11 million people in this county who are undocumented. He may take steps to get some legal status for those people within his executive authority.

On comprehensive reform, regardless of what the president believes he can do with his executive authority, I suspect some will say it is not enough.  For those against reform, those on the extreme right who call it amnesty, anything he does will be too much.  Therefore, I believe there are limitations to what the president can do through his use of executive power.

I'm not a person who goes to Vegas, but I don’t think the odds are very good in terms of getting immigration reform passed in the lame duck session of Congress.  Certainly things can happen. I do however, believe the president will use some of his authority, depending upon what Congress may or may not do.  However, he’s got another factor to deal with:  he is being sued by the House for excessive use of executive privilege.  Interestingly, the representatives who pushed to spend $3 million to pursue this lawsuit, could then not reach an agreement, three days later, about what to do with the children at the border and said the president could handle it using his executive authority.  It seems a little inconsistent.

If the House doesn’t make progress in the lame duck session and the president takes executive action, then the next Congress may deal with some of the key issues that relate to farmers, to the Dreamers and the H-2A program.  So it is a question mark.  What will a new Congress do?  If the Senate trends toward a Republican majority, how does that play into all this?  What will the Republican leadership in the House do?

What is not in question is that I remain committed to fixing the broken immigration system which includes comprehensive reform.  In addition, I am doing everything possible to bring a stable, reliable water supply to California agriculture.

I value the support Western Growers and other agricultural organizations have provided in putting this broad-based bipartisan coalition together.

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