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Giveaways Galore

Josh touched on this last week, but today Michael O'Hare has much, much more on the fact that the Interior Department is preparing to offer a handful of agribusinesses long-term rights to 15 percent of the federally owned water in California--more water than all the households in Los Angeles and San Diego use in a year--at a time when droughts are increasingly forcing residents to conserve. It's a remarkably sordid tale, even by modern-day GOP standards.

The administration originally wanted to give their agribusiness friends outright ownership of the water, but that was too blatant, so now they're "merely" offering bargain-rate 60-year contracts and some debt forgiveness. In return, the landowners of the Westlands Water District will promise--Scout's honor--to clean up a contaminated-soil problem that they very probably can't fix. But if they can't, no matter: They'll still have plenty of water to sell to Californians as global warming continues to dry out the region (and since the farmers are paying a fraction of the water's market value, that's a nice profit there). And hey, there's a sleazy revolving-door angle, too:

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Peltier, who worked directly under Gale Norton overseeing all of Reclamation [i.e., the agency forking over these rights] has left to manage Westlands Water District! Susan Ramos, an Assistant Regional Director for the Mid-Pacific office of Reclamation, who used to approve water transfers in California, now works at Westlands, too.

Now, the standard line is that the Bush administration isn't doing anything to prepare for climate change. I'm not sure that's necessarily true...

--Bradford Plumer