Ten Concrete Actions Jerry Brown Can Take to Become a Real Green Governor

Responding to President Donald Trump’s decision on June 1 to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, California Governor Jerry Brown immediately issued a bluntly-worded statement condemning the decision.

“Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course,” said Brown. “He’s wrong on the facts. America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris Agreement. He’s wrong on the science. Totally wrong. California will resist this misguided and insane course of action. Trump is AWOL but California is on the field, ready for battle.”

As usual, Brown’s statement and ensuing interviews were greeted by mostly fawning, uncritical coverage by the national and international media portraying the Governor as the “resistance” to Trump and a “climate leader.” Brown may speak colorful and fiery words at times, words that many agree with, but they are often not backed up by his actions.

He’s a political genius when it comes to working media, since he’s convinced much of the state, national and international media that he’s a “climate leader” and “green governor” at the same time he oversees some of the most environmentally devastating policies of any governor in recent California history.

If Brown really cared about climate change, green energy, the environment and the people of California and the planet, he would take a number of urgently-needed actions, rather than just issue constant statements and proclamations about how “green” his administration is.

Some of the most important actions Brown could take include:

(1) Sign the pledge, initiated by the Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party, to no longer take contributions over $200 from the oil industry.

(2) Return at least some of the $9.8 million that he has received in recent years from oil and energy companies. In the “Brown’s Dirty Hands” report, Consumer Watchdog revealed that that twenty-six energy companies including the state’s three major investor-owned utilities, Occidental, Chevron, and NRG—all with business before the state—donated $9.8 million to Jerry Brown’s campaigns, causes, and initiatives, and to the California Democratic Party since he ran for Governor for his third term.

(3) Support a ban on new land-based fracking operations in California. New York and Maryland have already banned the environmentally destructive practice of fracking, but California hasn’t, in spite of the “green” image that the state government constantly promotes.

(4) Back a ban on offshore fracking operations. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2013 revealed that Big Oil had conducted fracking operations at least 203 times during a 20 year period off the Southern California coast.

(5) Enforce the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999 to make the questionable “marine protected areas” created under the helm of a big oil lobbyist into real ones. The “marine protected areas,” created under a process that MLPA Initiative advocates touted as “open, transparent and inclusive,” don’t protect the ocean from pollution, fracking, offshore oil drilling, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

(6) Halt his environmentally destructive Delta Tunnels plan, a project that will destroy the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and hasten the extinction of winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and many other fish species. In addition, Brown’s “legacy project” will imperil salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

(7) Review and adopt sustainable and fish-friendly alternatives to addressing California’s water supply and ecosystem restoration needs, such as the Environmental Water Caucus Responsible Exports Plan.

(8) Stop appointing oil and energy company officials, as well as agribusiness officials and lobbyists, to California’s regulatory panels and commissions. In a classic example of how Big Oil has captured the regulatory apparatus in California, Brown appointed Bill Bartling of Bakersfield, who has worked as an oil industry executive and consultant, as district deputy in the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources for the Bakersfield region at the embattled California Department of Conservation in October 2015.

(9) Oppose carbon trading policies, backed by the Western States Petroleum Association, that merely trade pollution from one area to another, at great expense to indigenous peoples around the globe.

(10)  Craft and implement a creative statewide plan, in cooperation with leaders of recreational and commercial fishing groups, Indian Tribes, conservation organizations and environmental justice groups, to restore salmon, steelhead and other anadromous fish populations to historical abundance.

I would much rather have Brown address any one of these real problems that the people and environment of California now suffer from than have him go off to speak at yet another climate conference.

On February 6, twelve public interest groups, led by Consumer Watchdog and Food & Water Watch, unveiled a comprehensive “report card” on Jerry Brown Administration’s environmental record showing he falls short in six out of seven key areas, including oil drilling, fossil fuel generated electricity, toxic emissions, the California Environmental Quality Act, coastal protection and water. The report recommends some additional actions for the Brown administration to take, along with several of the same actions I recommended.

“Far from the environmentalist that Brown claims to be, Brown has expanded the burning of heat-trapping natural gas and nurtured oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing while stifling efforts to protect the public from harm,” the report says. “The Public Utilities Commission has approved a slew of unnecessary new fossil-fuel power plants when the state’s three major investor-owned utilities have overbuilt their generating capacity by nearly triple the minimum extra capacity that the state requires. Under Brown, the number of active onshore oil and gas wells jumped by 23 percent since the year before he was elected Governor in a bid to produce more oil.”

The report calls for a moratorium on the building of natural gas powered electricity plants, given what they described as “the glut of electric capacity,” and calls for an outside audit of the state’s energy needs. The groups showed how California can improve its environmental protections to meet standards set in other states.

The document recommends that the administration:

* Use executive authority to ban fracking as New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo did, reject any drilling in protected coastal sanctuaries, and phase out oil drilling. End irrigation with wastewater.

* Abandon the regional grid, deny new natural gas plant application, revisit those already approved and close Aliso Canyon permanently.

* Create an oversight board for toxics regulation, require companies to pay for cleanup and to increase penalties.

* Stop CEQA exemptions for developers and industry.

* Uphold the Coastal Act protections. Move nuclear waste to a licensed facility.

* Abandon the Delta Tunnels, the controversial California WaterFix. Make water conservation a priority. Force industry to pay for clean water.

“Brown has run into the arms of polluting industries, hurting the environment and vulnerable communities,” summed up Liza Tucker, the author of the report. “Despite continuing the climate change work begun by his predecessors, on a wide array of environmental issues Brown has allowed or encouraged regulators to fail.”

While Brown portrays himself as the “resistance” to President Trump’s positions on climate change and other issues, it is worth noting that Brown and the Trump administration appear to share a lot of common ground on many issues, including water infrastructure, public lands, the Delta Tunnels and the expansion of fracking in California. On April 13, Brown and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke had a “positive and productive” meeting during Zinke’s visit to California. For more information, go here.

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Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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