As U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, finds himself under scrutiny for his handling of the investigation into ties between Russia and the campaign of Donald Trump, his critics want to remind Californians of another alleged conflict of interest — this one involving his environmental record at home.
The Central Valley congressman, whose district includes parts of Fresno, has called California's nearly six-year water crisis "drought by design." And when Trump visited Fresno last summer and declared, astonishingly, that "there is no drought," some heard echoes of Nunes' own stance, which is shaped, critics allege, by his support from agribusiness.
"For years, Nunes has made misstatements about the causes of California drought," according to a statement from environmental group Restore the Delta. "Nunes is a climate change denialist and he believes that his campaign contributors — big corporate ag[riculture] — deserve all the available water in California at the expense of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary."
Restore the Delta staged a demonstration against Nunes Friday outside the Ag Lenders Society of California's annual meeting in Fresno. "If you go back and look at the history of his statements, they're based on untruths," says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the group's executive director.
Jack Langer, Nunes' spokesman, responded via email: "Rep. Nunes always enjoys hearing from the public, even from environmental extremists who’ve dedicated their lives to running the San Joaquin Valley out of water."
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Restore the Delta is against a bill Nunes recently co-authored, HR 23, that would divert more water to California farmers at the expense, according to critics, of the environment. "It destroys protections for endangered species," Barrigan-Parrilla says.
The group also is opposed to Gov. Jerry Brown's $14 billion plan to build new tunnels to help bring water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Central Valley and to Southern California. Critics say Brown's tunnels are bad for the environment, even though their original purpose is to save endangered fish, including Chinook salmon and Delta smelt, that now get caught in powerful pumps used to move water from the Delta to farms in the Central Valley. With noted exceptions, Big Agribusiness is pro-tunnels; environmentalists tend to be against them.
The tunnels would bring much-needed water to parched SoCal. "We've been supportive of the process" to create the tunnels, says Bob Muir, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "But our board has not taken formal action."
Agriculture consumes eight of every 10 gallons of Golden State water directed to businesses and homes, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Nunes wants even more for farming. "Nunes spends a lot of time saying, 'Turn up the pumps,'" Barrigan-Parrilla says.