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Tale of the Whale; Night Crawler: A Cure for the Common Cold

Tale of the Whale
Falling for the company line: Having spent five years directing the campaign to save Baja's Laguna San Ignacio (LSI) for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), I can testify to the wholesale inaccuracies in the cover story "Crying Whale" (Nov. 21, by Jill Stewart and Michael Lacey).

The basic untold facts are that Mitsubishi and the Mexican government wanted to build a salt factory twice the size of Washington, D.C., in the middle of an area that has four levels of legal protection, all of which prohibit development. The reason Mitsubishi wanted to produce industrial-grade salt at LSI was to produce chlorine for the plastics industry (a primary source of dioxin). This would have only created 200 jobs, with most of the workers coming from Japan. In the belief that they would lose the legal arguments, Mitsubishi attempted to turn the debate away from law into one about science.

The article claims that the "real victory was a triumph of public relations over public policy." Its main premise is that science would show no harm to the gray whales of LSI.

The scientific burden of proof was on Mitsubishi and their Mexican partner ESSA to show that their project would not harm the whales and the environment. They failed to do so. The scientists quoted to support the wise-use beliefs were all paid for by Mitsubishi as part of the environmental impact assessment required by Mexican law. Ms. Stewart assumes that the EIA was an exercise in objective science. This is simply not the case. EIAs are documents prepared by the project proponent to make the project look as good as possible. The Mitsubishi EIA cannot be considered science because it was not peer reviewed and was not intended to be independent. It is the equivalent to pro-tobacco science paid for by Philip Morris.

The unwritten story is that the $2 million, 3,000-page Mitsubishi EIA was completed six months prior to the decision to cancel the project but never released. If science was really on Mitsubishi's side, why was the EIA never made public? The reason is simple: The EIA was reviewed by consultants in Mexico City who declared that it would never stand up to scrutiny.

The [accompanying] article by Susan Goldsmith on the community of Punta Abreojos ("The New Economy") -- a critical factor in stopping Mitsubishi's plans -- contains a quote by me that I never made. "Crying Whale" amounts to a self-indulgent, 12,000-word Mitsubishi promotional piece. The article makes reference to my former organization the International Fund for Animal Welfare 17 times. Yet Ms. Stewart conducted not one single interview with any IFAW employee. The reason is that IFAW raised no money on the campaign. We could not be painted as the enemy, so why even talk to us? On the other hand the Natural Resources Defense Council is painted as using the issue of protecting LSI and the whales to raise money. How else do you think nonprofits are going to fund important campaigns like the one against Mitsubishi -- a company with more money than the country of Mexico?

Jared Blumenfeld
Director, San Francisco Department of the Environment
Noe Valley

Loud and proud: The Natural Resources Defense Council and its members are proud of the successful campaign against Mitsubishi Corp.'s plan to industrialize the Laguna San Ignacio in Baja California Sur. NRDC got involved in 1996 at the request of leading Mexican environmentalists and worked closely for five years with an unprecedented coalition of over 50 environmental groups in Mexico. The Mitsubishi project was condemned as a "reasonable risk" both to gray whales and the entire lagoon ecosystem by leading international scientists, including nine Nobel laureates, the president-elect of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and renowned whale scientist Dr. Roger Payne, who, in contrast to Mitsubishi's experts, donated virtually all of his time. The project generated an extraordinary level of public activism, including over a million letters of opposition to Mitsubishi from people around the world and formal resolutions of condemnation from mutual fund managers and every major city and county in California, as well as the California Coastal Commission.

If Mitsubishi (one of the world's wealthiest corporations) was "hopelessly outfoxed" by this campaign -- as New Times now concludes -- it was accomplished not by "glossy mailers" or "campaign rhetoric" but by an overwhelming public and scientific consensus that World Heritage sites, biosphere reserves, and whale sanctuaries must be protected.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Joel R. Reynolds
S. Jacob Scherr
Senior Attorneys, NRDC
Los Angeles

A fishy story: It is unfortunate that Jill Stewart, Michael Lacey, and Susan Goldsmith believed the revisionist and incorrect statements by former Mexican government officials, Mitsubishi and ESSA employees, and scientists who were on the Mitsubishi payroll about efforts to preserve the world's last undeveloped gray whale lagoon.

Emily Young and I interviewed ESSA manager Juan Bremer in 1994 for a technical report and my book, Saving the Gray Whale. After the interview, we realized that neither Mitsubishi, ESSA, nor the Mexican Mining Trust had any intention of providing accurate information on their plans to construct a 500,000-acre industrial salt plant next to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and within a Mexican federally protected area in which industrial development is prohibited.

The inability of ESSA officials to provide accurate information on the salt project was the principal reason the Mexican government twice rejected project environmental impact assessments. The documents were the product of the shoddy science of researchers such as Burney LeBoeuf, Paul Dayton, and their Mexican colleagues.

Pro-salt project scientists failed to comprehend what any undergraduate student first learns in Conservation Biology 101 -- the most important element of biodiversity conservation is preserving ecosystem integrity.

The assertion that environmental groups "wooed" local residents into the campaign to halt the salt project is incorrect. The first letters written to President Zedillo against the salt project were written in 1995 by local whale-watching guides and fishermen from San Ignacio Lagoon -- a year before IFAW and NRDC became involved in the anti-salt project campaign.

Hopefully, the next time New Times covers an environmental story, its reporters will spend more time on the ground getting the story right instead of believing the inane banter of bad scientists, corporate henchmen, and ex-employees of authoritarian and anti-democratic governments.

Serge Dedina
Author of Saving the Gray Whale
Imperial Beach, Calif.

Editor's note: For co-author Jill Stewart's response to some of the arguments made in these letters, see Page 15.

Night Crawler:A Cure for the Common Cold
Laughter is the best medicine: The piece by Silke Tudor on "The Tammy Faye Show" (Nov. 14) was absolutely hilarious. I never laughed so much, so loud (in public, no less), and cried at the same time. I think it cured my cold. I had to stop after reading the quote from [John] Waters -- "She's a militant Christian fag hag drama queen. She's got the eyelashes; I've got the mustache. We're eyeliner headliners" -- to adjust my own smeary eyeliner. I was so boisterous in my appreciation of this piece that I thought I would be 86'd out of a SPUR meeting before it began. A terrific piece of writing!

Denise D'Anne
Mission District


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