Protesters wearing gas masks attend a January 2016 hearing over a gas leak at Aliso Canyon storage facility near the Porter Ranch in Los Angeles. Richard Vogel The Associated Press
Protesters wearing gas masks attend a January 2016 hearing over a gas leak at Aliso Canyon storage facility near the Porter Ranch in Los Angeles. Richard Vogel The Associated Press

Soapbox

Brown should deal with California’s environmental issues

By Jamie Court

Special to The Bee

February 21, 2017 01:00 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown may be a leading voice against Donald Trump’s anti-environmental policies, but if he really wants to trump Trump on the environment he needs to not just see the forest but also remember the trees.

Brown sees the big picture of the future, be it climate change or the bullet train. On daily environmental threats to Californians, however, like bolstering Oroville Dam, Brown has fallen short.

Most troubling, the governor has too often thrown his lot in with the oil, gas, utility and real estate interests on matters ranging from coastal protection to toxic contamination to oil drilling and fracking.

For example, the indifference of Brown’s toxics regulators has allowed communities to be poisoned, such as in East L.A. with Exide’s lead battery recycling plant, while Brown turned the other way and vetoed needed reforms.

When oil waste water irrigated mandarins, raisins and wine, Brown refused to ban it, despite a petition from 350,000 Californians.

When developers usurped beaches under a corrupt Coastal Commission Brown-appointed board, the governor remained mum.

If Aliso Canyon’s natural gas reserve reopens without an explanation for why it leaked, as Brown’s regulators are advocating, Porter Ranch residents will remain in danger.

Note to gov: Environmental protection is more than combating climate change, but it should be a daily duty to protect Californians from the polluting industries that threaten their health, their land and their natural resources.

Exhibit A is the fossil-fueled electricity glut. A Los Angeles Times investigation recently found that Californians are spending billions for electric plants we don’t need, most powered by the fossil fuel of natural gas.

Brown and his appointees have embraced the building boom of fossil fuel-generated electricity. On Brown’s watch, the state’s share of electricity generated from carbon-emitting natural gas has risen to 60 percent from 53 percent in 2010. Fifteen natural gas power plants have been approved or built since Brown’s election.

An email made public after the criminal investigation over corruption at the Public Utility Commission from Pacific Gas & Electric’s top lobbyist Brian Cherry to his boss claims that Brown personally intervened with a PUC commissioner to persuade him to approve a natural gas-fired power plant called Oakley for the utility.

In the Jan. 1, 2013, email, Cherry claims “Gov. Brown used every ounce of persuasion to get (Brown-appointed Commissioner Mark) Ferron to change his mind and vote for Oakley. … Jerry’s direct plea was decisive.” PG&E donated $20,000 to the California Democratic Party the day after the PUC voted for the project. An appeals court would later strike down the decision because PG&E had not proved its necessity.

Sempra, which owns Aliso Canyon’s gas reserve, has claimed that we need more natural gas to power electric plants and that is why Aliso needs to reopen after the largest methane leak in U.S. history. But as the L.A. Times reported, that is a false claim.

This is a huge test for Brown, who so far has been indifferent to residents near Aliso, who have complained of severe health problems when Aliso’s reserve is in use.

Brown’s indifference is consistent with his attitude toward other communities threatened by fracking and oil drilling.

While his counterpart in New York, Andrew Cuomo, banned fracking via executive order, Brown has protected fracking and encouraged oil drilling. He has expanded drilling in state waters, even while calling on Obama to ban drilling in federal ocean waters.

Brown’s refusal to address the full spectrum of environmental problems that affect people daily should be a reminder to Democrats of the dangers of the elite, ivory tower approach that contributed to the transfer of power of the federal government to Trump. If that doesn’t wake up Brown to see the trees, what will?

Jamie Court is president the nonprofit public interest group Consumer Watchdog, which has recently published the report, “Is Brown Green?” Available at www.consumerwatchdog.org/isbrowngreen. Court can be contacted at jamie@consumerwatchdog.org.