Brown’s environmental mixed bag
In recent years, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed groundbreaking legislation establishing the most ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in North America, and he has been praised globally for his environmentalism and his efforts to curb global warming.
But at home – and elsewhere — he faces opposition to some of his environmental policies.
During the U.S. Climate Action Pavilion in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 11, Gov. Brown presented America’s Pledge report detailing how U.S. cities, states and businesses will take action on climate targets it set forth in the Paris Agreement.
“Yeah, I wish we could have no pollution, but we have to have our automobiles.” — Jerry Brown
“When cities and states combine together and then join with powerful corporations, that is how we get stuff done,” the governor said.
But Brown was interrupted by members of the Native American community speaking against his support of fracking and contending that his policies have hurt low-income communities.
“Respect Mother Nature, no more fracking, no pollution,” they cried out, wearing headdresses and face paint, during Brown’s speech.
“Yeah, I wish we could have no pollution, but we have to have our automobiles,” Brown responded.
“In the ground,” one of the protesters said loudly, referencing oil.
“I agree with you, in the ground. Let’s put you in the ground so we can get on with the show here,” Brown said, half-jokingly. “If I could turn off the oil today, 32 million vehicles would stop and 10 million jobs would be destroyed,” Brown added.
This was not the only incident where Brown faced opposition during his trip.
Amid the European Parliament in Brussels on Nov. 8, British politician Steven Wolfe contended some of Brown’s policies hurt poor communities.
The heat Brown faced came in part after California’s cap-and-trade bill was narrowly approved this year.
In a video published by the Sacramento Bee, Wolfe said he believes Brown is “well-meaning in wanting to protect the environment.”
“But do you not recognize that the policies you are implementing help the rich more than the poor, and make the poor suffer in the long-run?”
“Having crocodile tears you shed for the poor are not convincing, not convincing at all,” Brown responded.
The heat Brown faced came in part after California’s cap-and-trade bill was narrowly approved this year. The measure extended California’s existing cap-and-trade program, which had been scheduled to expire in 2020. It allows companies to buy, sell or trade emission allowances as they steadily ratchet back on carbon emissions until the emissions decline to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030.
There was bipartisan support for the bill — and two other companion bills — in the Legislature, with eight Republicans voting in favor.
“If somebody can point out, specifically, where I blew it and how they could have done it better, they should tell me.” — Jerry Brown
But more Republicans were opposed, and environmental foes included the Sierra Club in Sacramento. The group was critical of the legislation’s tax break for energy producers and the way cap-and-trade auction funds were distributed, among other things.
“We’re in a situation where time is not on our side — we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible. Using this money for other things doesn’t help the environment,” Kathryn Phillips, head of the group’s California chapter, told the Business Insider.
“If somebody can point out, specifically, where I blew it and how they could have done it better, they should tell me,” Brown said earlier in an interview with the Sacramento Bee. Brown’s predecessor, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed into law California’s sweeping environmental protection legislation, AB 32, was strongly in support.
“I hope Republicans around the country can learn from the example of Assemblyman (Chad) Mayes and his fellow Republicans,” Schwarzenegger, a Republican, wrote on Facebook, “that we can fight for free market policies to clean up our environment for our children at the same time we fight for a booming economy.”
A 2016 economic analysis from Bay Area-based BEA Urban Economics concluded that California’s environmental protections do little to impede growth and development.
Shortly after the vote, Republicans pushed Mayes out of his position as Assembly GOP leader.
In April, Catherine Reis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, urged Brown to be financially savvy with new cap-and-trade policies.
“The expense of this program is going to have some unintended consequences,” she said. “If California is going to continue being a leader in this space, businesses have to exist and thrive.”
But more recently, Reis-Boyd praised Brown and his administration, saying quarterly emissions results prove the cap-and-trade agreement was the “right thing to do.”
Environmentalists generally support Brown, but his attacks on the state’s premier environmental law have drawn fire.
Brown has publicly criticized the California Environmental Quality Act, which, among other things, enables citizens to go to court to challenge environmental violations.
Environmental review under CEQA allows those in rural and agricultural communities to weigh in on potentially polluting projects. CEQA supporters noted that a 2016 economic analysis from Bay Area-based BEA Urban Economics concluded that California’s environmental protections do little to impede growth and development.
“Emissions trading can have disproportionately negative effects of low income communities,” Magavern
But Brown, a former mayor of Oakland, once said that he “never met a CEQA exemption that I didn’t like.”
Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, believes Brown is a very environmentally savvy governor, regardless.
“Overall, I would classify him as the greenest governor in California history,” Magavern told Capitol Weekly.
Magavern praised Brown for his work on SB 32, setting ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases, and SB 350, increasing renewable electricity, both by 2030.
But Magavern also admits there are negative aspects to Brown’s reign.
“He (Brown) has something of a blind spot when it comes to extraction of oil and gas. Although he’s been strong on reducing demands, his record on protecting California’s air, water and land from extraction has not been nearly as stellar,” Magavern said.
Magavern said there has been a long-standing concern about emissions trading in the environmental justice community – as the protesters pointed out in Germany.
“Emissions trading can have disproportionately negative effects of low income communities,” Magavern added. “They bear the brunt of the emissions from big industrial emitters, like refineries and power plants … sometimes people living near extraction sites, like oil wells,” Magavern said, adding that there has been of “lax oversight of the oil industry.”
In 2012, the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, Calif. exploded, nearly killing 19 employees. More than 15,000 people living in the community, made up of about 40 percent Latinos, almost 30 percent black and less than 15 percent Asian, sought medical treatment for chest pains, shortness of breath, sore throats and headaches.
“We see pluses and minuses,” Magavern said, speaking about Brown’s governing. “But the pluses outweigh the minuses,” he added.
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