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This is some sad news — but we’re going to set it right:
Former Sen. Barbara Boxer is taking a new gig, joining Poseidon’s lobbying effort to build a controversial desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Proponents of the project are expected to announce the arrangement today, in which Boxer will be paid to press the California Coastal Commission on the project. Boxer, a longtime supporter of desalination, will be joined in the effort by former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez.
Landing Boxer and Núñez is no small thing. Poseidon will rely on the two Democrats to help blunt opposition from environmentalists, many of whom have raised objections to desalination for the energy it requires and the sea life it disrupts. Proponents say the project would provide another source of drinking water to a region where fresh water can be difficult to come by.
Boxer said in a prepared statement that support for the project “should be a no-brainer.” She added, “As a long time proponent of desalination, who wrote the desalination provisions in the last federal water bill in 2016, I urge all the state administrative agencies to move forward on the Huntington Beach proposal that has been languishing for over a decade, resulting in nearly 220 billion gallons of lost water.”
This makes me sadder than it does angry — although anger is saddling up and will no doubt take the lead before long — so let’s get some preliminaries out of the way:
- Republicans, Poseidon supporters, or both: you have every reason to be laughing at us poor Democrats this morning. Whatever else this is, it is also humiliating for those of us who long supported Barbara Boxer’s career in the Senate. The only question is: which of us will get to laugh last.
- Democrats: this is a great example of why the loyalty of the Democratic Party — in Orange County and beyond — cannot be to our “leaders” but to our principles and our voters. Leaders can be bought — or, more likely the critical cause here, merely bamboozled and hornswoggled by slick and lavishly financed PR campaigns. That’s all the more true when the target of such a campaign who has had every reason during her political career to have contempt for the politics of our county — and who probably doesn’t realize how much we have changed, this decade, for the better.
- All Poseidon opponents: I believe that Sen. Boxer is sincere here — and is simply, gravely, tragically wrong. But I think that she can be convinced to abandon this effort — even if not entirely recant it. The first thing you have to understand in this situation is why she is doing this — it’s not simply or even (I presume) mostly for the money. It’s because she believes that in the long term desalination is an important part of our long-term solution to providing water in California. We can argue that point with her — but we really don’t even have to. The question is NOT about some Platonic form of desalination, seen in its best possible light, but about THIS project, at THIS time, from THIS vendor, using THIS technology, at THIS price. And what a price it is!
Let’s start with “why is she doing this?”
It’s not because she is evil, or even stupid. It’s because she’s been sold on the idea — and we should be aware of how. The policy of how to bring safe drinking (and safe but less pristine industrial) water to Southern California and our eastern neighbors is a real one. As a Northern California Boxer is very sensitive to the fact that our historical solutions have been (1) steal surface, lake, and river water from the north; (2) rely on a supposedly infinite supply from Colorado; and (3) adopt both a larcenous heart and a believe in inexhaustible supply with respect to our state’s aquifers. OF COURSE she wants Southern California to become water independent! We’re steaking HER water!
At a first glance — though only at a first glance — having us use this project to tap into the gigantic jug of water to our south and west makes obvious sense. It seems like a “no-brainer.” So what we need to do is to get Sen. Boxer to engage her (quite effective, in my opinion) brain and take a fresh look at the issue.
First, understand that Boxer really is an environmentalist — and she is approaching it like one, with her position having been laid out in the big Water Bill that she proposed and supported last year, before she ended up lobbying against it after other people took it over and everted it. To her, the environmental issues at hand involve the degradation of the state’s northern water resources due to demands from the south. Does she want to see a ruinous algal bloom off of Huntington Beach? No, she does not! But she also doesn’t want to see the continued destruction of the Sacramento River Valley.
(One thing that you can count on is that she has been sold on this project by some very sophisticated experts who have studies her precise vulnerabilities to various sorts of arguments — enough to puff enough irritating colorless gas into her eyes to blur her vision, particularly her ability to see things at a distance.)
The way to get to Boxer on these grounds is to point out that THIS outdated technology stands in the way of, rather than facilitating, the use of powerful emerging technologies for which Poseidon just doesn’t wish to spring. (Did you see the stories about the use of graphene — that’s the single-layer molecular carbon sheet — to filter water? That’s worth waiting a decade for, ecologically and economically!)
There’s a pretty good analogy to her position here that could probably hit her right at her heart. The argument to use this outdated, damaging, and disastrous for consumers technology is very similar to the one that convinced many good environmentally conscious people over the years to believe that, regrettably, nuclear power is a critical part of serving our future energy needs. (I can already picture how she’ll wince at being confronted with a slogan like “POSEIDON IS THE DIABLO CANYON OF WATER TECHNOLOGY!” I’d say “San Onofre,” but again hers is the northern California perspective.)
YES, nuclear technology could conceivably have been used to dramatically (or at least somewhat) reduce harmful effects of reliance on carbon fuels — but that would have required wisdom and care in the design and execution of such plants that is beyond us mere mortals. And, like desalination, it’s not really clear that, absent much better technology that may be available down the line, it could be done appropriately at all. (Mistakes in design, execution, and maintenance do happen, especially given cost concerns and the profit motive — amirite, San Onofre? — and then unsuspecting consumers and neighbors are the ones stuck with outcomes that they were solemnly promised would never happen. Amirite, South OC and Northern San Diego County neighbors of a nuclear waste dump?)
Boxer should not be allowed to croon praises of desalination generally — if she wants to come into the wetlands of Orange County politics, she should be prepared to get down into the weeds. The technology sucks — and we have no shortage of scientists and activists here who can prove it. We have to give her specific enough objections — and demand specific responses from her in live interactions, not via texts smoothly fashioned by expert craftspersons out of the highest quality toxic bullshit — that she’ll be left stammering and will remember how much she dislikes it.
Second, understand that Boxer is an almost unsurpassed consumer advocate in Senate history — and she has to be confronted with clear information as to how she has been hired by rapacious aspiring thieves. Any local politician that meets with her should be armed with questions on the economics of the project and how — as with San Onofre — the consumers being promised that they will not end up footing the bills will end up footing the bills. This is an exquisitely baroque rip-off of consumers that Boxer should be the FIRST to demand be fundamentally restructured — as has happened to it repeatedly in response to repeated wallopings of earlier proposed ripoffs by local financial expert activists — so that it doesn’t guarantee initial and protracted obscene profits from a company selling overpriced outdated technology and putting a godawful proportion of its money into public relations and marketing. We have the statistics to show her — now we just have to shame her with them. We have to demand, again, that she answer PUBLICLY questions about the deal underlying the project, under aggressive scrutiny, rather than giving bland assurances to Democratic officeholders who may not be equipped with the relevant knowledge to ask the pertinent questions or may not have the effrontery to challenge her in front of the Poseidon PR team and the phalanx of lobbyists around her carrying cattle prods.
And finally — understand what she’s here to do. She hasn’t been hired for her environmentalism — and certainly not for her history of effective consumer advocacy. She’s been hired for her star power — the power to dazzle Democratic public officials who will be placed in the same room with her to hear her pitch.
She’s been hired only because Poseidon doesn’t have the guts to go out and hire Kobe Bryant and Meryl Streep to make the dazzling pitch instead. (Actually, to be fair, I don’t know that they haven’t done that as well — and I feel a little bad about possibly giving them the idea here.) But for a Democratic officeholder, Boxer is a particularly attractive meeting — if one is going to give into her blandishments — because implicit in any such meeting is that she can say nice things about you to people or not nice things about you to people, depending on how the meeting goes.
THAT IS HOW BAD THE POSEIDON PROPOSAL IS! It can be sold to people quite effectively — so long as one doesn’t depend on its merits.
[Disclosure: I have had a small institutional role in Barbara Boxer’s campaign. Back when I was the County Coordinator of the Jerry Brown for Governor campaign in 2010, I was also the de facto rep for Boxer for Senate — because they didn’t have anyone out here, at all, and after consulting with the Brown team (“uh, shouldn’t someone be doing this?”) I was given their number and asked them if they wanted me to be their contact person. “Sure,” I was told, by someone in Los Angeles who as far as I know was a low-level staffer, although I do vaguely recall talking to her a time or two after that. “Can you get me signs or something?” “Oh, we’re not really focusing on Orange County.” I’ll say! Coming from an era where OC was a conservative wasteland from the Democratic perspective, I can understand why Sen. Boxer did not give much of a fig about us. Times have changed here, and Boxer should start giving a damn — because her support for the Poseidon ripoff will be a horrific smirch on her reputation that will long outlast her, for as long as consumers are paying outrageous water bills as a result, and as long as the prospect of possibly responsible desalination is harmed by this farce — and she should care about that.]
If you’re interested in putting pressure on Barbara Boxer, you can let me know here and I’ll enlist you in the effort. We need researchers, protesters, activists — and basically just good people who care.