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California Senate Defeats Bill that Would Hand Over Electric Grid to Trump Administration

A press conference and rally on the south steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday featured actors playing Governor Jerry Brown and President Donald Trump laying together in a bed full of oil and coal in front of a large banner that proclaimed, “Jerry Brown: Don’t Submit to Trump, No More Coal, No More Drilling.”

The skit, accompanied by speeches from representatives of a coalition of environmental and consumer groups, underlined the threat of a Trump takeover of the California electricity grid by means of a controversial bill, Assembly Bill 813, now making its way through the California Legislature. Speakers also voiced their opposition to Trump’s plans to frack and drill California, both offshore and onshore.

Speakers from Food & Water Watch, Consumer Watchdog, Mothers Out Front, Rootskeeper, Greenpower, and the California Alliance for Community Energy challenged Brown to drop his support for AB 813.

“A western regional electricity market would subject Californians to increased power imports from coal-heavy states and higher bills from speculation on power contracts, in a regional grid under the oversight of the Trump administration,” said Adam Scow, California Director for Food and Water Watch. “The California Senate appropriations committee has until Friday to take action on a bill, AB 813, to fold California into a western market, or let the bill die.”

Scow emphasized the dire consequences to Brown’s credibility and to people and the environment that will result if the legislation is passed.

“If Brown hands over control of California’s electric grid to the Trump administration, he will lose all credibility as a leader on climate change,” explained Scow. “Instead of keeping us dependent on fossil fuels, the Governor should begin to phase them out, starting by stopping all new oil drilling permits in California.”

Scow noted that Brown’s oil and gas regulators have approved over 20,000 new oil and gas drilling permits since 2011 when Brown began his third term as governor.

A review of state permitting records in Oil Change International’s report “The Sky’s The Limit: California,” shows that more than 20,000 drilling permits, including permits for 12,000 new wells, have been issued during the Brown administration. These wells include 238 new offshore wells approved between 2012 and 2016 alone, according to Department of Conservation data analyzed by the Fractracker Alliance.

Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate for Consumer Watchdog, said creating a regional western power market out of California’s grid, now under the control of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), “means coal, natural gas and oil-friendly Trump appointees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be in charge of a regional power market under which California would fall.”

“These appointees include a former executive for billionaire investor Warren Buffett who wants to extend the lives of his western coal plants by selling dirty power into our market, a Keystone Pipeline supporter who pushed for pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, and a top corporate lawyer who represented Wall Street firms and oil companies before FERC, the agency he now chairs”, said Tucker.

“I have a bridge to sell anyone who thinks that FERC wouldn’t hesitate to slap down California’s green laws if they disadvantage fossil fuels,” she quipped.

Two of the key supporters of AB 813 are the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), who believe in “market solutions” to environmental problems and issues.

Writing in support, the Natural Resources Defense Council states: “We need a fully integrated western power grid to replace our current fragmented system where 38 different grid operators move electricity to homes and businesses across California and other Western states. With greater coordination, an independent Western grid operator will be able to draw cleaner, cost-effective electricity from across the region and send it where it is needed. This approach will reduce costs and improve reliability for electricity customers across the region. A 2016 study by CAISO found that a transition to a regional grid operator with an independent board will save the state’s electricity customers $1 billion to $1.5 billion annually by 2030.”

Responding to concerns by AB 813 opponents, Lauren Navarro, Senior Policy Manager for California Clean Energy of the Environmental Defense Fund, highlighted the Fund’s desire not to defeat AB 813, but to amend the bill to “maximize its benefits and protect California’s interests” in a Letter to the Editor in the San Jose Mercury News: Legitimate concerns about opening up our energy grid: But here’s how creating access to these resources will bring more clean energy to California.

However, Tucker said that no matter what “protections” of California interests might be written in bill amendments, they “will be superseded by FERC and the courts.”

“Brown is blinded by market solutions,” emphasized Tucker. “He thinks the market is the answer, but markets are not the solution if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

Tucker also noted that the action came a few weeks ahead of an international climate summit, the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), that Brown is hosting in San Francisco, ostensibly to demonstrate American action on climate change in spite of Trump, whom Brown frequently criticizes for ignoring climate change.

In addition to issuing over 20,000 new drilling permits, including new permits for drilling in offshore state waters, the Brown administration has refused to ban the environmentally destructive of fracking, in spite of protests by thousands of Californians, including Tribal leaders, conservationists, environmental justice activists, consumer advocates, business owners, anglers and representatives of frontline communities throughout the state. In contrast, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking with the stroke of his executive pen in 2014.

In 2017, Cuomo and the Governors of Delaware and Pennsylvania voted in favor of drafting up regulations to permanently ban fracking for oil and gas in the Delaware River Basin.

In California, pressure from Occidental Petroleum and their lawyer, former Governor Gray Davis, on Governor Brown led to the November 2011 firing of California’s top two oil and gas regulators, Derek Chernow and Elena Miller, who tried to impose safety standards on oil drilling, as required under federal law. The Governor replaced Chernow and Miller with oil industry-friendly appointees — and the result was the injection of drilling wastewater into thousands of federally-protected state aquifers.

No only has oil drilling expanded under Brown, but more than three-quarters of new oil wells approved during Brown’s tenure are in low-income communities and communities of color, according to state data analyzed by the Center for Biological Diversity in a ground-breaking report today.

The analysis found that 77 percent of the permits for new oil and gas wells issued since Brown took office in 2011 are in communities with a higher-than-average percentage of residents living below twice the poverty line and/or communities with a majority nonwhite population.

“The massive proliferation of dirty drilling under Governor Brown isn’t just hypocritical, it’s horribly unjust,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “Because of Brown’s refusal to rein in California’s oil extraction, thousands of wells operate dangerously close to homes and schools in vulnerable communities already suffering from some of the dirtiest air in the nation.”

To read the report, go here:

Adelita Serena of Woodland, one of the participants in the rally and press conference, emphasized what is at stake if the Legislature passes AB 813.

“I’m here for our children’s future,” said Serena, a member of Mothers Out Front. “As a mother, I’m concerned about the increased risk to our kids if AB 813 passes through the Legislature. This bill would put the control of California’s electricity grid into the hands of the Trump administration and California would be at great risk. I urge folks to call their local senators to stop this bill from becoming law.”

To see the huge numbers of organizations and businesses that are opposing AB 813, go here.

More articles by:

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

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