UPDATE, MAY 26, 12:42 P.M.: There's an interesting nugget about Orange County and the Carlyle Group in coverage of the ongoing court battle over human waste from Southern California spread atop farmland in Kern County.
Anyone trying to put the Bush 43 years behind them may have forgotten about the Carlye Group, a global asset management firm whose senior counselor was once James Baker III, chairman emeritus was George H.W. Bush's defense secretary Frank C. Carlucci and former senior advisers have included Clinton SEC chairman Arthur Levitt, Bubba's chief of staff Mack McLarty and Bush 41 himself. But Carlyle's greatest claim to fame (or infamy) involved its ties to the family that spawned Osama bin Laden.
William Karel's 2004 documentary The World According to Bush featured an interview with Carlucci, who discussed Shafiq bin Laden,
Osama's estranged brother, attending Carlyle's annual investor
conference during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that changed everything forever. More widely seen was Fahrenheit 911, Michael Moore's documentary from the same year, which portrayed the bin Laden family investments in the Carlyle Group as such an embarrassment after the Twin Towers fell that the bin Ladens were forced to liquidate their assets with the firm. Carlyle's divisions within the defense industry also raised eyebrows given the inconvenient truth of the firm's ties to the bin Ladens and Bush family/cronies.
A bill introduced in the California Legislature in February 2008, and later withdrawn, would have barred CalPERS from
investing money “with private-equity firms that are partly owned by
countries with poor records on human rights.” That would have included
Carlyle because its Mubadala Development firm is partly owned by the United Arab
Anyway, a subsidiary of that Carlyle Group is contracted by Orange County to take our poop to the pastoral-sounding Green Acres Farms, land near the tiny Kern County town of Taft where OC and Los Angeles County spread mucho waste-o. The counties concluded this was cheaper than the old practice of merely pouring shit into the sea off the coast, which environmentalists and ocean water regulators successfully made much more expensive.
Orange County homes, businesses and industries, on a per capita basis, together generate more than 80 gallons of raw sewage every day. We like to think after the toilet water swirls that our waste is taken to a magical place where ferries on ponies wave wands that turn the nasty stuff into sunshine and rainbows.
Actually, when it comes to that generated in 21 of our cities with a total population of 2.5 million people, the Orange County Sanitation District treats the sewage daily–enough to fill Angel Stadium almost three times.
Most of the biosolids, as the treated waste is more politely known, winds up covering fields in Yuma County, Arizona, where hay is grown. A Rialto plant also converts some OCSD biosolids into charcoal-like fuel pellets that can replace coal (and reduce greenhouse gas emissions). But 39 percent is taken to Green Acre Farms, which is
owned and operated by Synagro Technologies, which was acquired in 2007 by . . . drum roll, please . . . the Carlyle Group.
The biosolids are
turned into compost there, although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prevents spreading that fertilizer on crops consumed by humans. Despite the Green Acres composting having been deemed safe by the EPA, Kern County voters are not hot to take our ca-ca, fearing what the composting process is doing to the air they breath and groundwater they drink. Measure E (for effluent?), a ballot initiative passed in 2006, made it a misdemeanor to dump biosolids on unincorporated Kern County land, which includes Green Acres. Orange and Los Angeles counties have been fighting the measure in court ever since. The battle went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided against wading into the muck, kicking the matter back to the trial courts. The Southern California counties filed a new lawsuit to invalidate Measure E in February.
In the meantime, more than 450,000 tons of biosolids continue to be sent annually to Green Acres which, despite the theme song, is not the place to be. A recent update on the legal fight by BakersfieldNow.com ("Home of KBAK and KBFX Eyewitness News”) spawned posts all over the Interwebs where folks in Buck Owens Land raised a stink anew over the stinky stuff. Kern County's legal eagles also took the opportunity to counter the EPA's safety contentions, suggesting the mighty federal agency is not testing the biosolids for all the nasties that may be teeming inside.
This does raise an interesting point: if the treated shit and piss are so safe–and generating revenue in these cash-strapped times–why aren't Orange and Los Angeles counties keeping the biosolids here? Why not compost on our own respective open lands not yet covered with stucco slap-ups? Imagine the savings from all those years worth of polluting big rig trips back and forth to the County of Kern. Whatever happened to the old, Jerry Brown 1.0-era "Small is Beautiful” philosophy that had local populations taking responsibility for their own byproducts–and reaping the rewards that come with dealing with it oneself?
That, of course, takes the kind of local leadership sorely missing around here–unless the likes of a Carlyle Group are paying for it, of course.
ORIGINAL POST, MARCH 18, 2010, 11:40 A.M.: The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to let Orange County's poop go . . . to Kern County.
Kern County voters in 2006 barred Orange and Los Angeles counties from sending processed human waste to Buck Owens Land, where the sludge was used as fertilizer on farms there.
The city of Los Angeles and Orange County sanitation districts have petitioned the high court to rule the voter ban violates federal interstate commerce laws, the Associated Press reports.
A federal court previously ruled against the county that includes and surrounds lovely Bakersfield, but the state appeals court on Tuesday overturned the decision, sending it back to the lower court.
If LA and OC receive no crap relief through the courts, they will be forced to haul the ca-ca out of state–or we're all going to have to eat a lot more cheese.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before "graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.