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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Milk Cow Theory of Government Alive and Well in California

Written by Wayne Lusvardi
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"What the government calls cows, you call aliens."
- The conspiracy theory of government.

In a double absurdity, the L.A. Times reports that the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe is trying to shake down Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) by forcing relocation of a newly-built water filtration plant along the Colorado River to avoid a possible future shakedown of PG&E by trial lawyers for what amounts to be bogus contamination from a chemical called chromium 6 that hasn't even reached the river.

To cover their self-interested motives, the Tribe claims that the PG&E water plant is violating sacred lands proximate to what it belatedly now calls Topock Maze rock formation.

The Tribe has filed a lawsuit accusing PG&E, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) of violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in their rush to contain pollution from reaching the river. But in June 2004 the state declared an emergency and granted PG&E an exemption from CEQA for it to build a treatment plant facility costing $5 million located about 50 yards from a remnant of the Topock Maze rock formation.

At issue is a contaminant called chromium 6, a rust inhibitor. Chromium 6 is a natural metallic substance used in paint pigments, wood preservatives, and liquid wastes from chrome plating operations. Ironically, the health threat from chromium 6 is not from ingesting it in drinking water but from inhaling it over long periods of time.

In the 1950's and 1960's over one hundred million gallons of water with chromium 6 was spilled into the ground near Topock by PG&E to prevent corrosion and check the growth of mold from a cooling tower at a compressing station that propels natural gas through its pipelines.

Chromium 6 was made famous by the court case and movie "Erin Brockovich" which involved the so-called contamination of groundwater near Hinkley, California. The Hinkley case resulted in a $333 million shakedown of PG&E in 1996 by a private law firm under California's porous environmental tort laws (tort means harm). The $333 million settlement cost was merely passed through to PG&E's customers and didn't hurt the regulated profits of PG&E. A subsequent scientific study in 2000 found that even PG&E's employees who worked in proximity to chromium 6 had cancer rates lower than the general population.

The fear is that the chromium 6 plume (underground pond of water) will migrate into the nearby Colorado River which provides drinking water to millions of people in Southern California. However, even if the chromium 6 reached the river, the volume of the water in the river, lakes and reservoirs would dilute it to insignificant levels.

The Mojave Indian Tribe suit alleges that PG&E never provided scientific evidence that the treatment plant could only be put near the maze. The tribe would prefer a process of pumping the contaminated water out of the ground and trucking it to a disposal site at a cost of $1 million a month. But where would you put a treatment facility if not close to the underground pond of contaminated water? And why should PG&E's customers have to pay for relocating a plant that was reportedly only a "temporary visual" nuisance to the maze? And why is a small water plant structure any more of a nuisance or hazard than the nearby gas compressor station, railroad, highway, or natural gas pipelines which crisscross the area?

The Mojave tribe believes there is no emergency other than PG&E wanted to stop paying $1 million a month to haul away contaminated water. But isn't that justification enough? Why should PG&E's ratepayers have to pay for the most costly solution to the problem just because the Indian tribe is offended?

The L.A. Times further reports that tribal leaders escorted a group of state lawmakers and other government officials through the site. Why would elected officials even go on such a tour for such bogus claims? Would it be that legislators are dependent on campaign contributions from Indian tribes whose coffers are full from monies from casinos? Although the 1,100 member Mojave tribe is reportedly small, the National Congress of American Indians has urged Congress to hold oversight hearings. So there is a perverse incentive for legislators to put pressure on PG&E to settle the lawsuit to appease the Indian tribes so as to circulate some of the settlement proceeds back to the legislators.

All of this demonstrates what is often called the "milk cow" model of California egalitarian government. The Mojave Indian lawsuit won't be settled until all utters of the cow have been milked dry by all the interested parties, including the politicians themselves (for jokes on the cow theory of government click here)

The Topock Maze lawsuit is not an environmental compliance case, toxic tort case, or even a nuisance case, but an example of the alleged violation of a sacred political cow which gives legal grounds for the spreading of wealth and buying of political patronage. You may like to believe this is an alien form of government in California, but it is the status quo.

About the Writer: About the author: Wayne Lusvardi worked for 20 years for the Metro Water District of So. Cal. and lives in Pasadena. The views expressed are his own. Wayne receives e-mail at waynelbox-blogger@yahoo.com.

Rob's reply
The original article effectively rebuts Lusvardi's claims that the Fort Mohave Indians aren't sincere about protecting their sacred site. From the LA Times:

In the Desert, a Soul's Journey vs. Water Risk

A tribe aims to remove a treatment plant from the Topock Maze area, which it views as sacred.

By Marc Lifsher
Times Staff Writer

June 21, 2005

TOPOCK, Ariz. In the Mojave Desert, just west of the California-Arizona border, an ancient pattern of lines inscribed on the desert floor marks out the pathway to heaven for a small group of American Indians.

Once covering 50 acres, the so-called Topock Maze is held sacred by the Fort Mojave tribe as a place of final atonement, the destination of a soul's lifetime journey along the Colorado River from Spirit Mountain, 40 miles to the north in Nevada.

These days, however, tribe members say that modern civilization in the form of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. water treatment plant is blocking their road to the afterlife. The tribe claims that the plant, completed but not yet operating, is close enough to a surviving portion of the maze to disrupt their spiritual journeys. It is suing the utility and state regulators in an effort to have the facility torn down or moved.

PG&E and state regulators contend that the treatment plant is vital to an emergency effort to stop highly polluted groundwater from reaching a stretch of the Colorado River that provides drinking water for 22 million people in Southern California and neighboring states. But that argument doesn't mollify the tribe.

"This shows a total lack of respect for our beliefs about where we go to after we pass from this life," Nora McDowell, chairwoman of the 1,100-member Fort Mojave tribe, said during a recent interview at the tribal offices in Needles.

McDowell said the tribe was readying all of its resources, which include a small empire of casinos and local businesses, to bankroll its legal and lobbying effort to protect the maze.

"By God," she vowed, choking back tears, "you're going to hear from us."

As part of their campaign, tribal leaders took a group of state lawmakers and other state and federal officials on a tour of the site Friday. The political push won backing last week from the National Congress of American Indians, which urged the U.S. Congress to hold oversight hearings.

Mojave officials acknowledge that some tribal members attended state-sponsored workshops about the pollution cleanup effort. But they allege that plans to build the treatment plant were pushed through with little input from the tribe.

"PG&E knew that the Mojave hold deep spiritual and cultural ties to the Colorado River, the Topock Maze and other cultural and sacred places in the region," the suit alleges. "PG&E never 'worked closely' with the tribe 'to identify potential impact to cultural or biological resources.' "

PG&E spokesman Jon Tremayne declined to comment on the suit, noting that the San Francisco-based utility was holding settlement talks with the tribe. Although PG&E is "very respectful" of the Mojave's spiritual beliefs, he said, it strongly supports state officials' conclusion that construction of the Topock water treatment plant was a crucial step in protecting the Colorado River.

The conflict over the Topock Maze is the latest in a series of campaigns by Native Americans to protect sites in California that they consider sacred.

Over the last few years, tribal activists have blocked a Canadian company's plan to open a gold mine in the state's southeastern corner and have challenged a power company's effort to tap geothermal energy sources by drilling into underground pockets of steam near the Oregon border.

American Indians also oppose a proposal to raise the height of the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River, which could lead to the flooding of dozens of ceremonial sites. And Native American lobbying in Sacramento last year persuaded Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the first-ever law requiring local governments to consider protection of sacred sites as part of their long-range land-use planning.

"Their most important places have to be protected, and it's not necessarily a physical place," said Christopher McLeod, a San Mateo County filmmaker who made a documentary about Native American sacred sites. "It has historical and personal implications because these are cultures that really take their spiritual responsibilities seriously."

The origins of the Topock Maze are hazy. But the dozens of roughly parallel windrows of earth and sun-blackened pebbles some running for hundreds of yards have long been central to the religion of the Mojave, who call themselves "the people of the river" in their ancestral language. As the endpoint of a soul's transit along the Colorado, the maze "is the essence of what it means to be Mojave," tribal spokeswoman Gentry Medrano said.

Less than a third of the original maze survives on the creosote bush and sage-dotted bluffs near the Colorado River narrows. The California Southern railroad was pushed through the middle of the maze in the 1880s. The fabled U.S. 66 came through the area in 1926 but pointedly skirted the maze, as did a PG&E Corp. pipeline built in the 1950s.

What remains of the maze is protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but any remnant of solemnity is punctuated by the whine of Jet Skis and the putter of houseboats on the river below. Hundred-car freight trains frequently speed along on the nearby two-track rail line. And big rigs roar down Interstate 40, a six-lane freeway that replaced Route 66 in the 1970s.

Building a treatment plant so close to the maze represents another unnecessary insult to the long-suffering Mojave, tribal members say.

"We can't do anything but remove it," said Ashley Hemmers, 19, home for the summer from Yale University. "We have to save what we have left" of our culture.

The tribe's lawsuit, filed April 4 in Sacramento County Superior Court, accuses PG&E, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California of violating the California Environmental Quality Act in their haste to keep pollution from reaching the river.

From 1951 to 1969, PG&E dumped at least 108 million gallons of water laced with hexavalent chromium into the ground around Topock. The utility used the chemical compound, a known carcinogen referred to as chromium 6 and made infamous by the 2000 movie "Erin Brockovich," to prevent corrosion and retard the growth of mold in a cooling tower at a compressor station that pushes natural gas through its pipelines.

A monitoring well drilled in February detected chromium 6 only 60 feet from the Colorado in concentrations seven times greater than state safety standards. A month later, technicians found even higher levels at a nearby well.

Although no chromium 6 has been detected in the river, regulators are alarmed because intakes about 30 miles below the contaminated site supply drinking water to Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities in the Southwest.

State officials first ordered PG&E to begin removing the chromium 6 in 1995, but cleanup efforts were delayed. In June 2004, the state declared an emergency and provided PG&E with a legal exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, giving the utility more leeway in tackling the problem.

At about the same time, PG&E received state permission to build a $15-million, 7,000-square-foot water treatment plant alongside Bat Cave Wash below the compressor station and about 50 yards from a surviving portion of the Topock Maze. It's purpose: to increase pumping activity in an effort to pull the plume of contaminated water back from the river.

Construction began in October, and the plant is expected to run for up to 10 years, even though regulators refer to it as "an interim measure." The plant was completed last month.

The Mojave argue that PG&E and the state never provided scientific evidence that the treatment plant could be put only near the maze. Moreover, the American Indians, who consider themselves the historical "guardians of the river," said they were not convinced that use of the treatment plant would protect water quality better than the current system of pumping and treating the contaminated water and trucking it to a disposal site.

The tribe also alleges that the utility and the state violated California environmental law by not exploring alternatives to building the treatment plant and declaring an emergency without substantiating the threat to public health and safety.

"The plume's been down there for 40 years, so what's the emergency?" Mojave attorney Courtney Coyle said. PG&E, she argued, hurried to build the treatment plant because it wanted to stop paying about $1 million a month to haul away the contaminated water.

State regulators said they made a good-faith effort to keep the Mojave informed about the cleanup plans.

"We felt it was an emergency situation and continue to feel that way until this day," said Nancy Long, an attorney with Toxic Substances Control.

Indeed, regulators fear that a failure to quickly settle the tribe's lawsuit could seriously delay efforts to shield the Southland's water supply from chromium 6 contamination. Still, even if the plume reaches the Colorado, it's unclear how serious the threat would be to drinking water supplies once the chromium 6 is diluted by the river.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, meanwhile, confirmed that recent construction damaged a portion of the maze, but said that the treatment plant created only a "temporary visual impact" at the sacred site. The decision to place the plant near the Bat Cave Wash was "based on the best science we had," said Sally Murray, an archeologist with the bureau's Lake Havasu Field Office.

Such explanations provide little solace to the Mojave, who've struggled to maintain their way of life since the first Spanish explorers came to their desert valley four centuries ago.

On a recent trip to the maze, Felton Bricker, 68, a tribal elder and longtime activist on Native American issues, squinted against the late afternoon sun as he pointed out the PG&E water treatment plant to a visitor.

"Where do we go from here?" he said. "Are we going to wander in limbo?"

As for Lusvardi's claim that the tribe is "shaking down" PG&E and hoping for a monetary settlement, where's the evidence? Not in either of these articles. The tribe is suing to have the treatment plant torn down or moved, not to receive financial damages. Lusvardi has fabricated a motive for the tribe that doesn't exist and portrayed them as greedy in the process.

PG&E admits it was wrong
And the tribe was right. So much for Lusvardi's worthless criticism of the tribe's sincerity.

From the LA Times:

Historic apology over sacred site
PG&E will remove a treatment plant on desert land Indians see as a path to the afterlife.

By Marc Lifsher, Times Staff Writer
November 10, 2006

SACRAMENTO The top executive of California's biggest utility Thursday apologized to an Arizona Indian tribe, promising to atone for the company's desecration of a sacred site the tribe considers a portal to the afterlife.

Chief Executive Thomas King said Pacific Gas & Electric Co. "regrets the spiritual consequences to the tribe" when it built a $15-million water treatment plant in the Mojave Desert, west of the California-Arizona border.

The site known as Topock Maze once covered more than 50 acres of sage-dotted desert. There on a bluff above the Colorado River, an ancient pattern of lines inscribed on the desert floor marks the pathway to heaven for Indians who live nearby.

On Thursday, at a historic gathering, tribal members, other Native Americans, state officials and utility executives announced they had reached an unprecedented agreement.

The Indians dropped their lawsuit against the utility, and PG&E apologized and said it should have paid closer attention to the Indians' spiritual beliefs before building the plant. It promised to be more sensitive and to relocate the plant eventually away from the maze.

Protecting the maze is crucial to the survival of the 1,100-person Fort Mojave Indian tribe, tribal Chairwoman Nora McDowell told the crowd. "We have a responsibility not only to the past and present but to the future," she said. "It wasn't easy getting a corporation to understand, to recognize and to accept this."

Attorneys for the tribe, guests at the ceremony and even PG&E called the agreement and the utility's apology a first. Company spokesman Jon Tremayne said he could not recall PG&E ever making an apology of "that magnitude."

Alison Harvey, director of the California Tribal Business Alliance, said she was struck by "the incredibly touching display on both sides" and "the fact that the PG&E executive officer was prepared to come forward and participate in that way."

A clash of beliefs

The tribe, whose reservation covers parts of Arizona and Nevada near Needles, Calif., considers the ancient pattern of lines as the destination of a soul's lifetime journey.

But that belief clashed with PG&E and state environmental regulators in the last decade as they moved to address problems in the area caused by a massive plume of polluted groundwater under a natural gas compressor station.

Fearing the plume could contaminate the Colorado River and endanger drinking water supplies for 22 million people in Southern California and Arizona, the state and utility pressed ahead with plans despite the Indians' concern.

In early 2004, the state and the company began installing test wells and pollution control equipment in the area of the maze without consulting the tribe. Work on the plant began in late 2004, and it began operating in July 2005.

The tribe sued in Sacramento County Superior Court, claiming San Francisco-based PG&E and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control violated state environmental laws by not exploring alternatives to building a 7,000-square-foot treatment plant.

The legal battle ended Thursday with apologies from PG&E and tears of joy from tribal leaders. CEO King and the Schwarzenegger administration's top toxics regulator joined Chairwoman McDowell to announce a settlement.

More than a dozen women in full skirts and colorful shawls danced and chanted as an Indian elder purified the event with smoke from burning sage and an eagle feather.

The agreement calls for no payment of damages. It commits PG&E to remove the treatment plant as part of a final plan to clean up groundwater tainted by hexavalent chromium the same toxin found under a similar PG&E facility in Hinkley, Calif., made famous by the film "Erin Brockovich."

The legal settlement also deeds ownership of the maze to the tribe and pledges that the Indians will be consulted before doing any new engineering work.

The existing plant will remain in operation, treating polluted water, until a replacement can be built away from the maze.

The accord signed by the tribe, PG&E and the state required the utility to make a "public statement" that it "regrets our failure to sufficiently understand the tribe's belief, and apologizes."

The comments by PG&E's King at the ceremony, however, were "truly from the heart" and were "deeper than just a press conference," company spokesman Tremayne said.

A model for other states

The words of state Toxic Substances Control Director Maureen Gorsen also went far beyond the legal boilerplate spelled out in the settlement agreement.

"This is a change in the way we do business," Gorsen said in an interview. "It's the left brain and right brain and the heart working together instead of just being an engineering decision."

Gorsen called the agreement a model for other states and the federal government in "learning how to cooperate with the tribes." The agreement allows the two sides to collaborate to protect the river from potential contamination without doing harm to the Fort Mojave's culture and spiritual well-being.

The project, which PG&E said had cost "tens of millions of dollars" since 1998, is needed to treat at least 198 million gallons of water laced with hexavalent chromium that the utility dumped into the ground from 1951 to 1969.

The chemical compound, a known carcinogen, was used to prevent corrosion and retard the growth of mold in a cooling tower at a compressor station that pushes natural gas through a major pipeline to Southern California.

At least one monitoring well has found concentrations of hexavalent chromium only 60 feet from the Colorado River. Both the state and PG&E, however, stressed that the treatment plant was pulling the plume back from the river and that no toxins had been detected in the Colorado.

Tribal attorneys were pleased with Thursday's announcement. "This is a recognition that these places are worthy of respect and protection," said Courtney Coyle, who specializes in cases involving Native American sacred sites.

Coyle noted that the settlement of the Fort Mojave lawsuit was the latest in a series of legal victories for Indians.

Years battling in courts and in the media are starting to pay off for the tribes, said Christopher McLeod, a Santa Cruz County filmmaker and an activist for protecting sacred sites.

"The portal to the afterlife is a very serious place and has been that way for thousands of years," he said.

"It's historic that PG&E would acknowledge that and do the right thing."

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