Thursday, May 26, 2016

Huffman Thumps Trump

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 4:29 PM

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North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman blasted presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s planned visit with the leaders of the Westlands Water District in an absolutely scathing press release sent out this afternoon.

“Donald Trump, who continues to refuse to release his tax returns and show the public his personal accounting, will be sitting down with the perpetrators responsible for one of the largest municipal bond fraud cases in SEC history,” Huffman wrote. He accuses Trump and the district of using “smoke and mirrors” to manage their “questionable” financial histories.

If you need a reminder: Westlands Water District is the very, very powerful water agency that distributes water to irrigators in California’s Central Valley. It’s been central in a years-long battle with North Coast tribes, fisheries and environmentalists over Trinity River water that’s diverted into the Sacramento Delta through a series of dams. Every summer, when the Bureau of Reclamation is set to release 50,000 acre feet of water from the Trinity reservoir (which has been promised by the federal government since the dams' construction), Westlands (and other agencies) sue to block the release. And, every year since 2013, their requests have been denied by a federal judge.

Westlands has also been implicated in some shady business practices, recently being ordered by the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay $125,000 for misleading investors. The Westlands general manager described it to board members as “a little Enron accounting,” according to the SEC.

Huffman has had choice words to say about Westlands before. And he’s launched an investigation into a settlement deal the agency agreed to with the federal government that would forgive hundreds of millions of dollars the agency owes.

I’ll presume you don’t need to be reminded who Donald Trump is. The presidential hopeful will reportedly meet with leading players in California’s agricultural industry tomorrow, including folks associated with Westlands Water District.

Huffman doesn’t sound hopeful about the meeting:

“While we don’t expect it, we of course welcome any constructive policy solutions from Trump on how he would handle California’s water crisis and issues facing Latino farmworkers, not simply scapegoating environmental laws or a feel-good meeting to discuss their use of corporate welfare over taco salads,” he wrote.

From Huffman’s Office:

Washington, D.C.- California Representatives Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Ranking Member of the Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee, and Grace F. Napolitano (D-El Monte), Ranking Member on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, released the following statement in response to news reports that presidential candidate Donald Trumpwill be in California tomorrow to meet with major players in the agriculture industry, reportedly including senior leadership and board members of the Westlands Water District:

“Donald Trump, who continues to refuse to release his tax returns and show the public his personal accounting, will be sitting down with the perpetrators responsible for one of the largest municipal bond fraud cases in SEC history. Westlands Water District’s self-described “Enron Accounting” sounds a lot like Trump’s own smoke and mirrors. We’re sure that Westlands and Trump will have a lot to discuss given their similarly questionable financial history, with Westlands currently trying to line their pockets with a massive $375 million taxpayer bailout to keep themselves afloat. 



“Furthermore, we are particularly interested in Westlands’ position on Trump’s plan to deport migrant farmworkers in California and the rest of the nation. While we don’t expect it, we of course welcome any constructive policy solutions from Trump on how he would handle California’s water crisis and issues facing Latino farmworkers, not simply scapegoating environmental laws or a feel-good meeting to discuss their use of corporate welfare over taco salads.”

And here’s Huffman’s previous press release announcing an investigation into his congressional colleagues’ deal with Westlands Water District:

Washington D.C.- In light of the nearly unprecedented penalties paid by the powerful Westlands Water District to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges for misleading investors, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today launched an investigation with several of his congressional colleagues into a major settlement agreement between Westlands and the federal government. The settlement agreement, currently pending in Congress, would forgive hundreds of millions of dollars owed by Westlands yet lacks key safeguards and assurances that the water district will hold up its side of the bargain.

The SEC recently charged Westlands and two of its top officials with misleading investors about its financial condition, noting that the water district had used “extraordinary accounting transactions” to hide the fact that insufficient revenues were available to cover debt obligations. The General Manager of the Westlands Water District called this practice “a little Enron accounting” to his board of directors, and both the General Manager, a former Assistant General Manager, and the Water District itself agreed to pay significant penalties to resolve the SEC charges.

Separately, Westlands negotiated a sweeping legal settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior, resolving longstanding litigation over the management of drainwater from selenium-impaired farmland in the water district. While that settlement awaits Congressional consideration, the Interior Department continues to negotiate a similar agreement with Westlands’ neighboring water districts. However, as part of today’s investigation, Huffman released a new report from the Congressional Research Service that raises serious questions about the lack of safeguards in the Westlands settlement — safeguards that the Interior Department had previously identified as necessary for both taxpayers and the environment.

“The Westlands Water District plays by its own rules, and trusting them with an agreement of this magnitude should give every member of Congress serious pause,” said Rep. Huffman.“Anyone who compares their business tactics to Enron’s shouldn’t lightly be given a waiver of nearly $400 million owed to the U.S. Treasury, much less given a permanent water contract or carte blanche to manage the toxic discharge that could drain to the San Joaquin River and the Bay-Delta ecosystem. We need to know that the Westlands Water District didn’t get a sweetheart deal, and that the federal government is working to protect Americans’ financial and environmental interests.”

In launching the investigation, Congressman Huffman and his colleagues are today releasing:

· A Congressional Research Service Report that details the multitude of ways that the legal settlement reached between the Obama Administration’s Interior Department and the Westlands Water District fails to include key safeguards for the environment and for taxpayers, and falls far short of the principles laid out several years ago by the very same Interior Department.

· A Congressional letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy urging her to review the Westlands settlement to ensure that the EPA and other federal agencies are prepared to respond to the serious risks that the settlement might pose to water quality.Cosignatories include Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), and John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove).

· A Hearing Request to the Natural Resources Committee calling for oversight to be conducted on the Westlands settlement, including a request that Westlands’ General Manager, Thomas Birmingham, be asked to testify under oath in light of the recent SEC enforcement action. Fellow Natural Resources Committee Democrats Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk), and Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) also joined Rep. Huffman on the hearing request letter to Chairman Bishop.

· A letter to President Obama authored by Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) asking that the President direct his Administration to answer tough questions about the settlement signed with Westlands. Cosignatories in addition to Huffman include Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), and John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove)

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Grant Scott-Goforth

Bio:
Grant Scott-Goforth has been an assistant editor and staff writer for The Journal since 2013.

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