The Death of Satire: Riverkeeper Honors Governor for “Environmental Advocacy“

Political satire in the United States officially died on April 14.

That’s when Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, honored Arnold Schwarzenegger, the worst governor for fish and the environment in California history, for his “environmental advocacy.”

No late-night comedian, inflammatory radio talk show host or other practitioner of political satire could come up with a scenario this bizarre no matter how they tried. Reality, particularly in Schwarzenegger’s California, has become a self-parody, a living satirical comedy that knows no bounds.

Schwarzenegger was honored at the “Riverkeeper’s Annual Fishermen’s Ball” at Pier Sixty on the Hudson River in New York City at a dinner fundraiser. Spike Lee also presented an award to HBO during the event.

Ten demonstrators, including two active Riverkeeper watchdogs, passed out fliers and unfurled a banner, “Shame on the Riverkeeper – Arnold Is A Fish Terminator” as guests entered the event.

The demonstrators said that honoring Schwarzenegger is a betrayal of the Riverkeeper movement and undermines grass-roots movements for clean rivers. Three of them were arrested, according to Robert Jereski, a Riverkeeper watchdog from the Safe Water Movement.

“In honoring Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his continuing devastation of California’s rivers and their threatened and endangered fishes, Riverkeeper has betrayed its stated mission on the Hudson and the cause of rivers everywhere,” said Robert H. Boyle, Riverkeeper founder, who left the organization 10 years ago.

In fact, a Riverkeeper spokesman would only speak on the condition of anonymity to reporters from the Sacramento Bee, and the Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow (New York) Patch to explain why they would honor Schwarzenegger in spite of such widespread opposition to his environmental policies.

“The group is honoring Schwarzenegger specifically for his work on climate change, according to a press contact who declined to be named for this post,” reported Kevin Yamamura in his article in the Sacramento Bee on April 13.

Kennedy and the Riverkeeper gave the governor this award in spite of the deluge of letters and phone calls from conservationists, fishermen and environmental justice advocates blasting them for honoring Schwarzenegger.

The Riverkeeper’s mission is “to protect the ecological integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries, and to safeguard the drinking water supply of New York City and the lower Hudson Valley.”

Founded by commercial and recreational fishermen in Tarrytown 40 years ago, the Riverkeeper has spawned a nationwide network of more than 150 groups, including many in California, that lobby for clean water and other environmental initiatives.

Since Schwarzenegger took office in 2003 in a recall election, he has waged a relentless war on salmon, salmon fishermen and the environment in California that is diametrically opposed to the Riverkeeper’s mission of protecting the ecological integrity of rivers. His administration has become known for its numerous conflicts of interests, corruption and violation of the state’s environmental laws.

In the latest Field Poll, California voters gave Schwarzenegger the lowest rating of his career, with his approval dropping to only 23 percent in March, down from 27 percent in October. This is as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s rating was in 2003 before he was recalled in a special election.

I suspect that Schwarzenegger may have received the award because of his close relationship to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other Kennedy family members through his marriage to Maria Shriver.

Regardless of the reasoning behind it, the honoring of Schwarzenegger in an insult to the fishermen, Indian Tribes, environmentalists and others who have been under assault by his policies. Kennedy and the Riverkeeper, by giving “green cover” to Schwarzenegger, are in effect endorsing his war on fish and fishermen.

Since being elected in 2003, Schwarzenegger’s record includes the following examples of “environmental advocacy”:

  • He allowed the Department of Water Resources to pump record levels of water out of the Delta from 2004 to 2007, resulting in the current collapses of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass and threadfin shad. The largest annual water export levels in history occurred in 2003 (6.3 million acre feet), 2004 (6.1 MAF), 2005 (6.5 MAF) and 2006 (6.3 MAF).
  • He has consistently slashed funding for game wardens while California has the lowest ratio of wardens to residents of any state in the nation.
  • He directed the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board to continue to grant waivers to agricultural polluters, in spite of the dire condition of Delta fisheries.
  • He has vetoed numerous environmental bills, including a badly needed bill by Lois Wolk that would provide for emergency fish rescue plans.
  • Since 2004, he has fast-tracked a controversial Marine Life Protection Area (MLPA) process filled with conflicts of interest and corruption that kicks sustainable fishermen, Indian tribal members and seaweed harvesters off the water while refusing to deal with pollution, coastal development and other human uses of the ocean that have lead to fishery declines.
  • He recently introduced a bill that would allow the lame-duck governor to choose 25 development projects each year that would be exempt from the state’s strict standards under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
  • However, Schwarzenegger’s greatest “environmental passion” is campaigning with Sen. Dianne Feinstein for a massive peripheral canal and more dams that will cost an estimated $23 billion to $53.8 billion at a time that California doesn’t have enough money to pay for its teachers, game wardens and health care for children.

In November, Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders pushed through a controversial water policy/water bond package that creates a clear path to the peripheral canal and new dams. If not stopped, the canal will likely lead to the extinction of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

In addition, at photo opportunities and in press conferences Schwarzenegger has continually attacked the court-ordered biological opinions for Delta smelt and Central Valley salmon. These plans conclude that current water-pumping operations of the state and federal water projects should be changed to ensure survival of Delta smelt, winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, the southern population of North American green sturgeon and southern resident killer whales.

Although I have admired RFK Jr. and the Riverkeeper for their efforts to restore the Hudson River, they have badly damaged their credibility by honoring the “Fish Terminator” for his “environmental advocacy.”

“The award is a farce,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta. “Schwarzenegger is perpetuating a water-delivery system that will wipe out what’s left of California’s salmon run and will deal the final death blow to the Delta. This award is a classic example of greenwashing.”

“Governor Schwarzenegger’s term has been a disaster as far as protection of water quality and fisheries in California is concerned,” said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and former Deltakeeper, who emphasized that he has enormous respect for RFK Jr., and his environmental work. “Schwarzenegger has used his stance on air quality as a cover and shield for the harm he has done on water issues.”

Jennings, whose organization has 55 pending appeals and several lawsuits directed against the Schwarzenegger administration, and others are puzzled why the Riverkeeper, an organization that focuses on water quality, awarded the governor for his stance on air quality.

Jereski criticized the Riverkeeper for not only greenwashing Schwarzenegger’s abysmal record in California but for the organization’s actions at home. On the East Coast, natural gas extraction using horizontal hydrofracking – the process of drilling down into shale and then turning the drill horizontally to tap pockets of natural gas – threatens rivers and aquifers from New York State to Tennessee.

“By not joining environmental groups opposing hydrofracking and instead calling for protection of just the New York City watershed, Riverkeeper has sided with unscrupulous politicians and the gas industry willing to sacrifice the rest of rural New York State to industrialization and contamination of waterways,” Jereski said. “Riverkeeper fails to honor its founding mission.”