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Sacramento 2012 – Banana Republic Politics and California’s Timber Aristocracy

California’s political establishment demonstrated a clear capacity in 2012 for crony capitalism environmental politics. The closure of the legislative session in Sacramento this year would seem to have been better set in a mythical country where societies biggest land owners, and the politicians that they own, conspire in back rooms to develop and pass legislation that consolidates the landowners power over public trust natural resources. Repeated votes past midnight on the last day that the legislature was in session, arm twisting by high end corporate lobbyists, water carrying for the rich by established career political operatives, and the crowing of the landed elite about the “significant reforms” contained in the new anti-democratically designed law are all elements of a scene from the most corrupt of countries. But this scene of banana republic politics is from sophisticated California, a scene from the land of wine and solar panels, a scene from Sacramento in all it’s self-important glory.

These banana republic politics are the backstory to what will become known as Governor Brown’s timber industry legacy giveaway, AB 1492, a law that extends the length of time for executing timber harvest plans and relieves big landowners from liability due to fires they start on their own lands. This new law also removes all permitting fees for timber harvest by the biggest landowners, while imposing a new 1% consumer tax on the retail sale of wood products in the State of California, regardless of their origin, to fund the permitting process. Governor Brown signed the law into effect this week, and promptly released a joint press statement with Red Emmerson of Sierra Pacific Industries, billionaire twice over and largest land owner in the state, to celebrate the Democratic governor’s legacy gift to the landed elite of the State of California.

While EPIC appreciates that this new law reduces timber harvest permitting costs for small and medium landowners and operators, the fact is that it is the large-scale intensive and clearcut dominated silviculture model that costs the state so much money for timber harvest plan review and regulation, as well as restoration. The cost of permitting and recovering from this damaging clearcut industrial forestry model is now passed on to the consumer more so than ever before, and the opportunity to use a fee schedule to reward small and sustainably envisioned timber businesses with permitting relief while forcing damaging industry to pay for their short sited and destructive practices has now been lost. Also, the way things are set up now, those land owners who choose to sell their raw logs for export will be totally subsidized by the regular consumer in California, further eroding the establishment of a sustainable and dignified timber industry in California. These are just a few of the reasons that EPIC opposed AB 1492, and did not turn a blind eye to the machinations of banana republic timber politics.

And we can say Banana Republic politics because, other than Sierra Pacific Industries and Green Diamond Resource Company, another clear winner with this Governor Brown give away to the landed timber aristocracy is the Fisher Family, owners of the Gap clothing empire (Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic), and more than 400,000 acres of prime redwood region timber land in Northern California. Enshrining in law that the common consumer pay a tax on lumber to pay for timber harvest permitting is clearly a direct gift from the Governor to the Fisher Family. No other industry in the state enjoys this vaunted status of paying nothing for permitting fees.

As if this were not enough banana republic politics, it is important to remember that the California Natural Resources Agency will be the direct beneficiary of the revenue of this new lumber tax, even though one of the biggest financial scandals of the year was exposed within the Agency at State Parks, with millions of dollars of stashed cash appearing after illegal vacation payouts by top level staff were revealed by reporters at the Sacramento Bee–even as parks were being closed and services seriously reduced. This financial scandal and the absolute violation of public trust that it represents was not even sufficient cause for pause and reconsideration of the management of natural resources by the political establishment in Sacramento. Though some of the better news for EPIC in our efforts to advocate for sustainable environmental planning came in the form of bills that passed that will retain and develop democratic funding sources for our treasured State Parks, our organization is very disappointed in the lack of willingness thusfar from the Sacramento political establishment to address this inexcusable mismanagement issue in a holistic manner through the Natural Resources Agency. The parks finances scandal and the lack of a thorough response by entrenched interests in Sacramento is an indictment of the top heavy reality of the California Natural Resources Agency, a bureaucracy that shows no sign of willing reform.

Corruption, mis-management, back-room deals, and late-night after hours legislative shenanigans, these are the watermarks of Sacramento in 2012. Those who are in the inner circle in Sacramento may applaud their cleverness and agility as they position and jostle within The Building to exercise their esoteric knowledge of how the system is rigged, but they are only pawns in the game. Governor Brown’s legacy timber industry give away only confirms who it is that the government in Sacramento is intent on serving. The real winners continue to be the landed timber aristocracy, and their business interests. The losers are the natural resources of this state and their protection for this and future generations.


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