Drakes Bay Oyster Company's PR Face Lift Won't Fix Its Koch Brothers Blemishes

In January, California Common Cause began questioning the connections between the Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the Koch Brothers, the Oklahoma oil company barons who finance pro-business causes, including nationwide efforts to privatize public park lands.

This week, the oyster company decided that connection was a PR problem in the San Francisco Bay area community. With much uproar, Drakes Bay dumped Cause of Action, the pro-public land development firm with strong links to the Koch Brothers, that had provided pro bono legal services to the company.

This move came after PBS Newshour publicized the connection between the Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the law firm's right-wing backing. The forceful PBS report also emphasized the contract guiding the National Park Service's decision to close the pollution-filled oystering operation when its lease expired. The decision ensured that Americans would maintain control of this property bought by taxpayers 40 years ago for protection as the first marine wilderness on the West Coast.

Apparently the truth hurt.

After the PBS report aired, both Cause of Action and Drake's Bay sent scathing letters to PBS blasting their news report. Cause of Action went further by filing a Freedom of Information Act request for all of the news organization's raw tapes produced during their filming -- an unthinkable attack on the well-respected PBS.

Meanwhile, the oyster company was relishing the favorable coverage from Fox News.

Not surprisingly, the public is seeing through the company's fictitious claims. For example, the oyster company isn't historic -- it was formed in 2005 after buying the lease's remaining seven years from the previous owner, fully aware of the 2012 lease expiration. The lease couldn't be renewed, which is why the company waged an attack campaign on the Park Service.

Additionally, the company's operations are defined as wholly unsustainable; it plants millions of non-native Japanese oysters and Manila clams, and repeatedly committed "intentional and knowing" State Coastal Act violations, including polluting the estuary with plastic debris and operating motorboats in sensitive harbor seal habitat. Californians are realizing that the company's Big Oil-agenda is an attack on the public interest.

Those following this saga understand that firing one law firm cannot shield the company from the evidence before the public that reveals an agenda to commercialize national parks and wilderness areas. You only need to look at the company's legal supporters, its industry lobbyists, and its champions in Congress.

Joining forces with the company is the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which is funded by the Koch Brothers and believes that our nation's protected public lands should be open to exploitation by commercial and private interests.

Supporters of PLF include members of Congress that rank at the bottom of the environmental scorecard produced by the non-partisan League of Conservation Voters. They include Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA), who have a 4 percent and 3 percent rating respectively.

Senator Vitter is author of the Republican energy bill, called the Energy Production and Project Delivery Act of 2013, which would expedite permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for gas and oil development, allow for offshore drilling along the California coast and the rest of the country. Tucked at the very end of a 51-page energy bill is a provision which would provide the oyster company with a new operating permit despite its lease expiring months ago.

Congressman Hastings is heading up a clearly political effort, seeking reams of documents regarding the Interior Secretary's decision with a specific focus on the scientific analysis. In his request Rep. Hastings claims Secretary Salazar's decision "was not based on scientific data" but instead matters of long-established contractual terms and park policy.

Meanwhile, the company and its discredited scientist have taken to Fox News and talk radio to amplify their talking points on allegations of "fraud" -- allegations disproved by the Inspector General.

For the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, it is too little and too late to repair its tarnished image. The public now knows it is working lockstep with pro-corporate lawyers and legislators on an agenda to open up the voters' beloved national parks and wilderness areas to industry and commercialization.

California Common Cause remains concerned about this precedent-setting land-grab that subverts the public interest for special interests. We will continue to monitor and shed light on this issue so our public lands are protected for future generations.