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Bechtel Foundation Sponsors PPIC Peripheral Canal Greenwashing Event

Bechtel Foundation Sponsors PPIC Peripheral Canal Greenwashing Event

by Dan Bacher

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) will hold a Bechtel Foundation-funded program in San Francisco on June 15 to promote plans to build the peripheral canal and take significant chunks of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta land out of agricultural production to facilitate the export of more northern California water to corporate agribusiness and southern California water agencies.

The event, "Managing California's Water: Economy vs. Environment?," is funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and other sponsors and runs from 4:30-6:00 p.m. at the PPIC Bechtel Conference Center, 500 Washington Street.

Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. is the retired chairman and a director of the Bechtel Group, Inc. He is the son of Stephen David Bechtel, Sr. and grandson of Warren A. Bechtel who founded the Bechtel Corporation, the largest engineering firm in the United States.

"Water in California has become a source of increasing conflict," the announcement for the program states. "Current policies are failing to meet demands for water supply reliability, water quality, and flood protection. Meanwhile, freshwater aquatic ecosystems are in sharp decline. Drawing on a recent PPIC report, Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation, this event will explore new approaches to balancing economic and environmental goals for sustainable water management."

Unfortunately, one of the key "new approaches" cited in the report is a Nineteenth Century solution to a Twenty-First Century problem - the peripheral canal. Page 5 of the report proclaims the necessity of a peripheral canal or tunnel to achieve the "co-equal goals" of water supply and ecosystem restoration.

"In a reconciled Delta, dams and water diversions would be reoperated to create a 'natural flow regime' that captures or accentuates some of the variability under which native species once thrived, thereby also making conditions less favorable for some invasive species. A peripheral canal or tunnel, diverting water exports around or underneath the Delta, would allow some water exports to continue while ending the disruptive effects of pumping water through the heart of the Delta," the report states.

Delta residents, Tribal members and fishermen excluded

In a case of elitism and instititutional racism that plagues the PPIC's programs and studies, those most directly impacted by the Delta water plans have been completely excluded from the discussion. Delta farmers, fishermen, Indian Tribal representatives, grassroots conservationists and environmental justice community leaders haven't been invited to speak, as usual.

The event will begin at 4:30 p.m. with a reception, followed at 5:00 p.m. with a welcome by Mark Baldassare, president and CEO, PPIC. Ellen Hanak, senior fellow of the PPIC, will begin her presentation at 5:05 p.m.

Her presentation will be followed at 5:20 p.m. by a "Response Panel," moderated by Brian Gray, professor, University of California, Hastings College of the Law

The panel will include Andrew Ball, president and CEO, Webcor Builders; Grant Davis, general manager, Sonoma County Water Agency; and Felicia Marcus, western director, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Audience Q & A will take place at 5:45 p.m., followed by adjournment at 6:00 pm.

The event partners are the Association of California Water Agencies, Bay Area Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Floodplain Management Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Other funders of the program beside S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation include the usual promoters of the peripheral canal and other corporate greenwashing projects: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Pisces Foundation, Resources Legacy Fund and Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. The Resources Legacy Fund Foundation and the Packard Foundation are also the main funders of Arnold Schwarzenegger's controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) announced the opening of the Bechtel Conference Center on March 22, 2011.

"The conference center is made possible by a gift from the Stephen Bechtel Fund," according to a PPIC news release ( "Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., is the retired chairman and a director of the Bechtel Group, Inc., the largest engineering company in the United States. His daughter Laurie Dachs is president of the fund. For three generations, the Bechtel family has been dedicated to improving public works and public life in California and throughout the globe."

The Bechtel Corporation's brutal and destructive history

Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr.'s San Francisco-based foundation, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, has as its overall mission, "to support well-managed non-profit organizations that provide quality programs and create significant sustained benefits in areas of special interest to the Founders and Directors."

Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. is listed as the chairman of the foundation's board of directors and his daughter, Lauren B. Dachs, as the president and executive director on the foundation's form 990-PF for 2009. Stephen's Bechtel's wife, Elizabeth is also listed as a director. In addition, Stephen and Elizabeth are listed as managers for the foundation.

Regarding its environmental programs, the foundation's website proclaims, "The Foundation believes that the earth and its inhabitants require a fine balance between natural order, conservation of resources, and those demands inherent in growth and development. The Directors have a special interest in the restoration and conservation of California wetlands and waterfowl and the conservation of ecologically significant open spaces that enhance the understanding, use, and enjoyment of the outdoors for all sectors of society."

Unfortunately, this "environmental" funding appears to be a clear case of greenwashing, when you consider the dark history of the Bechtel Corporation. Bechtel, the corporation that was instrumental in the "reconstruction" of Iraq, is a leading advocate throughout the world of the privatization of water systems. It was Bechtel that sued the country of Bolivia for canceling a contract there sponsored by the World Bank.

A CorpWatch report, "Profiting from Destruction," provides case studies from Bechtel's history of operating in the water, nuclear, energy and public works sectors. These case studies reveal a legacy of unsustainable and destructive practices that have reaped permanent human, environmental and community devastation around the globe.

Letters from "Bechtel affected communities" included in the report provide first-hand descriptions of these impacts, from Bolivia to Native American lands in Nevada. The report reveals a 100-year history spent capitalizing on the most brutal technologies, reaping immense profits and ignoring the social and environmental costs. For more information, go to

Another CorpWatch report details "Bechtel's Water Wars" in Bolivia. Fortunately, the people of Cochabama rebelled against Bechtel's scheme to privatize their water system and won (

Other recent examples of Bechtel's history of corruption and destruction include the following (

• Iraq: On April 17, 2003, following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, George W Bush, through USAID, awarded the first Iraq reconstruction contract, valued at $680 million, to Bechtel. "It is alleged that some of the construction projects managed by Bechtel were either poorly implemented, failing within months of their installation, or designed in such a way that Iraqi engineers did not have the knowledge or components to fix Bechtel's proprietary technology," according to Wikipedia.

• New Orleans: In 2005, Bechtel was awarded a no-bid contract by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to install temporary housing for the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort. The lack of competitive bidding for the contracts was criticized, as was the high cost of the contracts and the failure to support local, minority-owned businesses.

• Boston: On July 10, 2006 a three-ton section of concrete suspended ceiling crashed in the east bound lanes of the Massachusetts Turnpike I-90, in Boston. This tunnel ceiling collapse was in the "Big Dig" which Bechtel along with Parsons Brinckerhoff were responsible for building. This collapse claimed the life of Melena Del Valle, a 38 year old native of Costa Rica. Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reily immediately designated the accident scene a crime scene. He has left open the possibility of negligent homicide charges being levied against Big Dig contractors and managers.

Why is the Bechtel Foundation funding PPIC report?

Are we expected to believe that the Bechtel Foundation's funding of the latest PPIC report and program was simply for "altruistic" reasons? Are the scientists who authored this report aware of the Bechtel Corporation's record of devastation across the globe? These are questions that must be asked! (

Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, describes the absurdity of building the peripheral canal to "save" the Delta better than anybody.

“The peripheral canal is a big, stupid idea that doesn’t make any sense from a tribal environmental perspective,” says Franco. “Building a canal to save the Delta is like a doctor inserting an arterial bypass from your shoulder to your hand– it will cause your elbow to die just like taking water out of the Delta through a peripheral canal will cause the Delta to die.”

The campaign to build a peripheral canal or tunnel takes place as Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other species have declined to record low population levels in recent years, due to massive water exports out of the Delta and declining water quality.

Here's the link for the PPIC program: