From the day Republican President Donald Trump won last fall’s election, Gov. Jerry Brown has worked to position himself as the leader of the loyal opposition. He has said time and again that he will fight for the liberal agenda so popular in California, from same sex marriage to climate change activism.
He’s especially vocal about preserving the state’s ability to move on its own to improve air quality and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases most scientists have found are a prime cause of climate change and global warming.
So it was quite contrarian when 12 environmental and public interest groups published a report the other day questioning Brown’s green credentials, rating him as living down to his name: “Brown” on everything from oil drilling to preventing toxic emissions and promoting an overcapacity of fossil-fueled, greenhouse gas-spewing electric plants.
That last one may have been the biggest surprise, considering Brown’s frequent posturing as a champion of renewable energy, especially power from wind and solar sources. Despite his frequent words, the 12 groups say California now derives 60 percent of its power from fossil fuels, mostly natural gas, while in 2012, just after Brown took office for the second time, the state was getting just 53 percent of its electricity from such “dirty” sources.
What’s more, the groups charged in their 56-page report, Brown systematically encourages a glut of power plants that sees consumers paying for about 20 percent more generating capacity than the state will ever need in the foreseeable future.
The accusing groups include Consumer Watchdog, Food & Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Restore the Delta, among others. Restore the Delta has long opposed Brown’s “twin tunnels” plan to bring Northern California river water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta, while Consumer Watchdog previously issued a report accusing Brown of political corruption.
As with past reports like that, Brown has said nothing about the claims against him, thus assuring they have gotten little publicity. “Same drivel, different day,” press secretary Evan Westrup opined.
But the claims in the environmental report appear every bit as solid as those in the previous corruption allegations, the subject of an ongoing investigation by a state watchdog agency.
Food and Water Watch is particularly incensed about the apparent acquiescence of Brown appointees in plans of Southern California Gas Co. to reopen its flawed Aliso Canyon gas storage field in northern Los Angeles, even if it’s at somewhat lower levels of gas quantity than Southern California Gas Co. finds optimal.
The group noted that Brown’s sister, Kathleen, the former state treasurer, draws a six-figure fee as a board member of Southern California Gas Co.’s parent company, Sempra Energy, saying that makes his actions on Aliso a conflict of interest.
The report also castigates Brown for “nurturing (oil and gas) drilling and fracking,” repeating a contention that early in his term he fired regulators who tried to delay hydraulic fracking for gas and oil in Kern County until there were assurances that waste water from those operations would not harm ground water supplies often used for crop irrigation.
The report claimed Brown is living out his 2012 statement that “The oil rigs are moving in Kern County…we want to use our resources (including) the sun and all the other sources of power. It’s not easy. There are going to be screwups, there are going to be bankruptcies, there’ll be indictments and there’ll be deaths, but…nothing is going to stop us.” So far, there have been no indictments, but former Brown-appointed members of the state Public Utilities Commission have been under investigation since early 2015 by federal and state authorities.
The green groups noted that Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein endorses a state legislative bill to keep Aliso Canyon closed until the causes of the storage field’s months-long leak in 2015 and 2016 are found and fixed. Brown is silent on that bill.
None of these claims has yet had any effect on either Brown’s approval ratings or his policies. No one yet knows if the contradictions cited between his posturing and his actions will affect his legacy, his standing in state history or his prospects in a potential future run for the Senate.
Which means all anyone can do is stay tuned.
Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column.