Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability (CESAR)

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The Center of Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability also known as CESAR is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that self-describes their purpose as to “use of data and the scientific method to ensure consistent application of environmental statutes throughout all industries and all sectors”.

CESAR functions both to publish ‘reports’ describing the regional threats on a range of species as well as making arguments over the scientific description of species as subspecies vs. same species. They then use those reports and other outside documents to file lawsuits using the Endangered Species Act.

Initially established in 2008 as the Council for Endangered Species Act Reliability (CESAR), they would go on in 2011 to rebrand themselves as the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability, keeping the same acronym.

All of the CESAR fundings come from contributions, gifts, grants, and donations. Their yearly revenue varies drastically from year to year. In 2009, CESAR received $201,352 in revenue but a year later that dropped significantly to only $25,025. 

Key Officers Worth Knowing (none of which are compensate):

Craig Manson - Executive Director

David Bernhardt - Director

Science Advisors Worth Knowing: 

Rob Roy Ramey II, PhD

Robert M. Zink, PhD

 

Evidence: 

Arguments are "completely out of touch with current science" - Center for Biological Diversity 

Oil and Gas Funding

In 2014, CESAR received $10,000 donation from DonorsTrust. Since it’s founding its founding in 1991, DonorsTrust has donated $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups. Together with its sister group, Donors Capital Fund, they distributed nearly $120 million to 102 think tanks and action groups skeptical of the science behind climate change between 2002 and 2010.

In 2015, the Charles Koch Foundation donated $25,000 to CESAR. The foundation is run by Charles Koch, the CEO of Koch Industries, a multibillion dollar corporation heavily involved in oil refinement and benzene production.

Oil and Gas Motivated Legislation

Hookless Cactus

In 2012, CESAR published a report that argued that (1) the three subspecies of Hookless Cactus don’t exist and there is only one species, (2) the species is not in great threat (when considered one species) and therefore don’t require the current conservation efforts, and (3) the oil and gas industry’s fracking does not pose a threat to the Hookless Cactus. This goes directly against previous findings on the scientific warrant for subspecies classifications. They counter this point by (1) making counter claims and (2) arguing that because the scientists/professors who came to this conclusion either published on the topic or were general plant experts, they were either too biased or unqualified to make this opinion. It’s worth noting that the only scientist on the CESAR report was CESAR employee Dr. Rob Ramey, who has far less plant scientific background than any of the three critiqued scientists, never mind the difference in plant taxonomy experience. Still, he offered his own opinion on this matter and critiqued the decision of the three botanists that have long standing consultant agreements with the Department of the Interior.

Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that areas with Hookless Cactus populations had to have 400 and 1000-foot setback areas around individuals. This poses a problem for oil and gas companies, because there is a large overlap between the Hookless Cactus range and fracking sites.

The Western Energy Alliance, a group of aligned oil and gas companies, held the Utah Basin Advisory Network Meeting in response to the Hookless Cactus setback rule. In the meeting, a Western Energy Alliance official stated, “On behalf of CESAR (the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy, & Reliability), Dr. Rob Ramey has initiated a review of the various studies and materials that support the listing decision and FWS’ management policies. We hope that his findings will be useful as we continue to advocate against needlessly restrictive setbacks.”

Interact here with the current range of Hookless Cactus. 

Sage Grouse

CESAR has a long history of attempting to delist the Sage Grouse from the Endangered Species Act. Their efforts range from producing papers disputing oil and gas development’s harms on Sage Grouse to issuing reports that criticized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s The Sage Grouse Conservation Objectives Team Report (COT Report) as not “a scientific document” and “overstates some threats”. The same CESAR report has been slightly rewritten and put on the website of the Western Energy Alliance, an alliance of oil and gas companies.

 In addition, the Western Energy Alliance sources their conclusions to reports publised by Dr. Ramey in order to petition the Department of the Interior on Sage Grouse impact statements and land use plans. 

CESAR's Direct ties to Oil and Gas Industry in regards to the Sage Grouse 

Head CESAR scientist Dr. Rob Ramey was paid $200hr to “analyze review and critique influential studies and reports on GRSG [greater sage grouse]” by Western Energy Alliance, American Exploration Mining Association, Colorado Mining Association, Independent Petroleum Association of America, The International Association of Drilling Contractors, Montana Association of Oil Gas & Coal Counties, Montana Petroleum Association, the Nevada Mining Association and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming

Why the Sage Grouse Matters to the Oil and Gas Industry

On June 7, 2017, Secretary of the Department of the Interior announced an official review on the 2015 Federal Sage Grouse Plan, which outlines the areas of protection the Sage Grouse is afforded.  This excited the oil and gas industry because of the large overlap in the land leased to oil and gas companies and the nesting areas for greater Sage Grouse.

Map of the Sage Grouse habitat and current Oil and Gas Leases in southwestern Colorado. This is far from the only area with this type of overlap - with 10 other states containing Sage Grouse protected habitat.

As of November 2014, there was $9 million spent lobbying the 2015 Sage Grouse plan. This number does not included private efforts, such as the Western Energy Alliance’s peitition of the Department of the Interior with $275,000 budget in 2014 to challenge the 2015 sage grouse plan.

There is a large financial stake in this for oil and gas companies to delist the Sage Grouse. When fighting the 2015 Sage Grouse plan, which ultimately passed, Western Energy Alliance claimed that the most conservative plan would have caused a reduction of $307 million in annual economic revenue, their mid-plan would cost $839 million in annual economic revenue and most restrictive plan would cost $5.6 billion in annual economic revenue.

Conservationists are concerned for the Sage Grouse. Scientific studies concluded that 44% of the most important habitat for Sage Grouse is at risk of energy development, with 9.1 million acres of sagebrush and 2.7 million acres of grassland within the sage-grouse range to be lost to oil and gas drilling in the coming years. 

Water Motivated Legislation

Hetch-Hetchy

In 2014, CESAR sued multiple employees of the Department of the Interior, claiming they failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act, with regards to salmon, sturgeon and smelt in the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers, with respect to the Hetch-Hetchy Project. The Hetch-Hetchy Project diverts water from the Tuolumne River dam to a pipeline that sends water to San Francisco, which provides 85% of the city’s water.

The lawsuit was filed because federal orders for “severe cutbacks” in the amount of water provided to the Central Valley to protect the fish habitat, but was not enforced with the Hetch-Hetchy Project.

One might think that environmentalists would support such legislation, such as Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. Yet, when asked her opinion on the lawsuit she stated, “the goal is not to provide more water for fish, the goal is to provide more water for Westlands”. Westlands Water District is a water company that operates and competes in the same region as the Hetch-Hetchy project. David Bernstein, the director of CESAR, led the lobbying effort for Westlands Water District at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLC (see polluter watch profile for lawfirm) between 2011 and 2016. Most significantly, the Executive Director of CESAR serves as the general council for Westlands Water District. This is one such example of CESAR using the Endangered Species Act to pervert conservation legislation for a company’s profit.

Orca

In August 2012, Pacific Legal Foundation submitted a petition on behalf of CESAR and two California large farms, the 2,200 acre Empresas Del Bosque and the 4,000 acre Coburn Ranch, to delist the killer whale under the ESA. The following year, the petition was rejected by the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The motivation of the petition was to remove the protection granted to the Southern Pacific population of the killer whales for the explicit purpose of increasing the water supply to the two fruit farms. Both of which to some extent specialize in almond production, which is notoriously a water intensive product. The petition was explicit in its connection between the farms inability to expand it production and acres due to a lack of water and the Endangered Species Act’s designation and protection of the killer whale.

The petitions arguments were multifold, but can be broadly summarized as an attempt to delist the south pacific killer whale because they argue it is was not scientifically considered to be a subspecies of the killer whale and even if it was the Endangered Species Act does not allow Distinct Population Segments to be protected for subspecies only species.

This case isn’t really about killer whales, but their food supply. Three pods of  south pacific killer whales summer in Puget Sound, located in Washington state. In order to feed them, the salmon that are born and naturally swim up to that region need to be protected. These salmon are spawning right middle in the region of specifically sited, in the CESAR petition, water companies; Westlands Water District,  Chowchilla Water District, and San Luis Water District.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are 4 distinct populations of Chinook salmon spawn in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system, in which these water companies operate. This species of salmon, is a particular favorite and staple of the Puget Sound Killer Whales.

Why is CESAR involved? Three reason:

  1. The Executive Director of CESAR serves as the general council for Westlands Water District.  

  2. David Bernhardt, the director of CESAR, led the lobbying effort for Westlands Water District at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLC (see polluter watch profile for lawfirm) between 2011 and 2016. 

  3. CESAR’s role in the petition, as the lead petitioner, was to bring the perception of scientific integrity and objectivity to the petition. The motivation of CESAR is described as “CESAR believes that these activities [, the delisting of the killer whale,] will generate additional support for environmental statutes, because the results of and bases for regulatory actions will be transparent and supported by science”.  

See the map of Puget Sound the location where the killer whale summer.