On environment, some lessons for Brown

A hazy day in the Los Angeles Basin, New Year's Day, 2015. (Photo:Trekandshoot, via Shutterstock)

Gov. Jerry Brown has called Donald Trump’s election the proverbial “heart attack” to get California off of the equivalent of cigarettes — climate-destroying fossil fuels.

But for Brown to be the foil to Trump’s anti-environmental policies, it’s going to take a lot more than launching California’s own climate-tracking satellite.

It’s time to move to a direct fee to get the job done.

Brown’s far-sighted view blinds him to what is in front of him. Industrial emissions of toxic chemicals and fine particles are polluting scores of communities across the state. Brown’s indifference to these communities is creating a backlash among their residents, and also among lawmakers who are going to weigh the benefits of limiting greenhouse gas emissions and allowing polluters to trade dispensed allowances.

The reason California has managed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent since 2006 is a major recession, increased energy efficiency, and a boatload of renewable energy coming on line — it now makes up 27 percent of the state’s energy mix.

“Cap and trade” is not a primary reason, nor is it saving communities from pollution that is sickening and killing them. Academics at USC find cap and trade doesn’t help communities facing concurrent toxic emissions from metal processors like the now-shuttered Exide lead battery recycler in East LA, and refineries like Chevron’s in Richmond.

As long as it’s cheaper for companies to pay to pollute with both greenhouse gases and toxics, instead of upgrading their technology, that is what they will do. It’s time to move to a direct fee to get the job done. In the end, that fee will make companies more efficient and competitive while reducing healthcare costs.

Gov. Brown is no longer beholden to the oil industry that has donated nearly $10 million to his campaigns, initiatives, favorite causes and to the state Democratic Party since 2011. He can afford to do what is right.

Some 350,000 people have signed a petition asking regulators to end the irrigation of crops with oil wastewater until we know it’s safe. That water has left its toxic and carcinogenic marks on raisins, oranges, and wine grapes grown in California. But his regulators are ignoring those 350,000 people.

Brown refused to put a moratorium on fracking until proven safe. Instead, of banning fracking with the stroke of a pen like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did, he green-lighted fracking together with a study. That 2015 study by the California Council on Science and Technology recommends banning all chemicals we don’t understand, as well as the most hazardous chemicals that we do. Again, regulators have not acted.

Under Brown, Californians have bankrolled a glut of natural gas power plants when we use barely half the capacity, as The Los Angeles Times recently revealed. State regulators are rushing to reopen the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history—the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility owned by Southern California Gas and parent, Sempra—without knowing what caused that leak.

Leaking methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat for a century. That leak sickened and displaced thousands. We don’t need Aliso for power reliability when pipelines are doing the job. But that site is a profitable piggy bank for utilities stashing and trading natural gas.

Area residents who still have nausea, rashes, and nosebleeds, together with other ratepayers, shouldn’t be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain that unnecessary facility. Making that case appears complicated for the governor when his sister Kathleen sits on Sempra’s board, overseeing safety. She’s collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for her board work and also invested in a real estate and oil company planning a luxury housing complex on acreage right next to Aliso Canyon.

If Gov. Brown is unable to act in the public interest, perhaps this will be food for thought: Democrats cannot afford to be out of touch with people suffering from pollution on a daily basis lest the lesson of Donald Trump’s election be lost on them.  People are hurting. It’s a simple decision to cut greenhouse gases and toxic pollution at the same time.

Ed’s Note: Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group.



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