There is nothing more Californian than our ability to swim, surf and fish in clean water. And yet, we have fallen behind Kentucky and Texas when it comes to clean water enforcement. With industry advocates in the federal driver’s seat, we need state leaders in California to hold polluters accountable for harming our precious water resources.


It used to be that the federal government was a cop on the beat enforcing the Clean Water Act. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency being subjected to a hostile takeover from polluting industries, the number of environmental enforcement cases and the amount of penalties levied has been cut in half.


At least under the Trump administration, California is going to have to go it alone. We are known internationally as a state that cares deeply about environmental protection, so you’d think we’d have this covered. California is suing the Trump administration to prevent rollbacks to vehicle emission standards. Frustratingly, this same vigor has not been applied to taking action against those polluting California’s beaches, bays and rivers.


The State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards are charged with protecting our increasingly scarce and precious water resources. These agencies helped us survive a devastating drought, but are falling short when it comes to levying fines against polluters. In 2016, only 1 percent of the illegal industrial and construction storm water pollution cases brought to the state water board resulted in penalties. 


Six of the nine regional water boards did not issue a single fine in 2016. In 2017, just 2 percent of industrial and construction storm water pollution cases brought to the state water board resulted in penalties.


This means that of the thousands of refineries, trash dumps, auto dismantlers and cement factories from San Jose to the Oregon border, not a single facility was fined by the state for storm water pollution. In California, the polluter doesn’t pay. Even repeat offenders and those who are responsible for “serious” violations face no economic consequences. This puts the majority of companies — which are complying with the Clean Water Act — at a significant competitive disadvantage.


The same state agencies that don’t seem willing to issue penalties for polluted industrial runoff have a good track record when it comes to issuing fines for sewage pollution, so it can be done. Let’s start enforcing clean water laws by taking these three steps…


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Five years ago, California took the bold step of establishing a basic human right to “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes." This right is of utmost importance to those rural communities whose drinking water has been contaminated by pesticides and nitrates from fertilizer.

But now polluters are seeking to avoid their legal responsibilities by hijacking a well-intentioned bill, Senate Bill 623.

SB 623 – its main proposals could be heard by a Senate budget subcommittee as soon as Thursday – would do one good thing and one very bad thing.


As originally drafted, the bill would establish a fund to assist for communities and individuals whose wells are polluted. Every Californian should support this effort. We have benefited from inexpensive food grown on the backs of farm workers living in these rural communities. In the richest state of the world's richest nation, absolutely no one should be consuming or bathing in dangerously polluted water.


But the bill would also perpetuate agricultural pollution. In the last few years, state water agencies and non-profit organizations have begun to press for better farm practices to reduce water contamination. In response, the agribusiness lobby has added language to SB 623 that would give industrial farms, livestock feed lots, sprawling wineries and others a pass on cleaning up their operations.


The “safe harbor” provisions would shield farm operators who pay into the fund from enforcement of basic water quality protection requirements, even though under the best-case scenario, they are collectively expected to contribute only about $30 to 40 per year for each of the estimated one million Californians using contaminated wells.


That's hardly enough for a month's worth of bottled water delivery, let alone adequate treatment or long-term cleanup. And in return, farm operations would be exempted from water quality and cleanup requirements, allowing them to continue polluting with impunity.


California has never embraced such a pay-to-pollute scheme, and we cannot start now, particularly as industries have unprecedented power in Washington, D.C.


The basic concept behind SB 623 remains sound – to fund a program to provide safe water to every Californian while we figure out how to clean up the mess that agricultural dischargers have created. But exempting those polluters from clean-up responsibility for a few pennies on the dollar is a terrible idea.

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After being cited by the state for violations of federal and state environmental laws, local engineer and business owner Kevin McKenny on Thursday resigned from the Humboldt County Planning Commission.


McKenny is a licensed civil engineer who owns KH McKenny Construction Inc. in Eureka. He has served on several local boards and commissions including the City Of Eureka Building Appeals Board, Humboldt Community Services District Board of Directors and the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission. He has served on the planning commission for more than four years.


Inspections by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found McKenny had developed the property without proper permitting and allowing illegal discharge of waste on the Third Slough, which is a tributary of the Eureka Slough and Humboldt Bay. The violations cited in the inspections included installing pipes and drains in the slough floodplain, which Thompson said they hypothesize were installed to remove water from the site to allow for development.

Part of the cleanup order will require McKenny to explain why the pipes and drains were installed.


“We want to hear from him on why he put the pipes there,” Thompson said.


Other violations cited include illegal grading of a wetland, removal of riparian habitat and pushing slash and waste into riparian areas.


Last week, three local environmental groups — Environmental Protection Information Center, Northcoast Environmental Center and Humboldt Baykeeper called for McKenny to resign from the Planning Commission after the state cited him for violations such as illegal grading, floodplain drainage and disposal.


“His conduct is not befitting an individual on the Planning Commission, particularly as the county moves to enforce violations of the its cannabis land use ordinance,” the groups’ May 11 statement reads. “Therefore, our organizations call for his immediate resignation. Should Mr. McKenny fail to resign, we ask that the Board of Supervisors remove him from his position.


“... We deserve Planning Commissioners who understand and respect local, state, and federal environmental protections,” the statement says in conclusion.


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Eureka, Calif. — EPIC, the Northcoast Environmental Center, and Humboldt Baykeeper call for the resignation of Humboldt County Planning Commissioner Kevin McKenny. As reported by the Lost Coast Outpost, in a Notice of Violation dated January 9, 2018, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board placed Mr. McKenny on notice that he violated numerous federal and state laws. He is accused of grading within a floodplain, removing riparian vegetation, placing slash and waste into riparian areas, and draining a federally recognized wetland adjacent to Third Slough, a Humboldt Bay tributary just outside Eureka city limits. Mr. McKenny has acknowledged his “mistake.” 


But this is more than a mistake. From the site inspection report, it appears that Mr. McKenny deliberately sought to drain the wetland with the apparent intent to develop the site. Further, Mr. McKenny appeared to use heavy machinery to fill other areas of the wetland. Mr. McKenny was previously warned that his activities violated the law, yet he continued his harmful actions.


The allegations against Mr. McKenny are serious. His conduct is not befitting an individual on the Planning Commission, particularly as the County moves to enforce violations of the its cannabis land use ordinance. Therefore, our organizations call for his immediate resignation. Should Mr. Mc Kenny fail to resign, we ask that the Board of Supervisors remove him from his position. 


It is estimated that 90% of the wetlands in Humboldt County were destroyed before their importance was understood and protections put in place. Wetlands improve water quality by filtering polluted runoff and provide critical wildlife habitat. 


Mr. McKenny knows that draining, grading, and filling wetlands require permits from at least four agencies — including Humboldt County. The Planning Commission’s responsibility is to protect public health, safety, and welfare. We deserve Planning Commissioners who understand and respect local, state, and federal environmental protections. 


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Humboldt County Planning Commissioner Kevin McKenny likely violated the federal Clean Water Act, the California Water Code and other environmental regulations last fall when he conducted unauthorized construction activity on a 4.5-acre parcel he owns just outside Eureka city limits, according to a Notice of Violation from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.


The notice, issued January 9, says that during an inspection of the parcel this past November, staff from the water board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that grading had been done to the floodplain; riparian vegetation had been removed; slash and waste had been pushed into riparian areas; and a drain with least three underground outfall pipes had been installed without proper authorization. 


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