Jerry Brown Fails to Live Up to Rhetoric 

The governor issues dire warnings on climate change while embracing proposals that will worsen global warming and harm the environment.

During a major speech on climate change last week, Governor Jerry Brown warned that the planet is quickly approaching a point of no return. If we don't act fast to reduce greenhouse gases, he said, "five years from now, it's over." The Oakland Tribune reported that Brown issued his dire warnings at a technology summit in the Silicon Valley, which also featured a "call to action" report on global warming signed by more than five hundred scientists. Yet despite the governor's tough talk, several environmental groups have correctly criticized Brown for failing to live up to his rhetoric.

In fact, Brown has acted at times over the past year as if climate change poses no real threat at all. For example, the governor recently proposed to take $500 million from the state's cap-and-trade program and use it to help balance the budget. The funds, which came from major carbon polluters in the state, is supposed to pay for clean-energy and pollution clean-up projects. "The governor is right on the rhetoric, but he needs to put our money where his mouth is," Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, told Tribune reporter Josh Richman. "That's money that needs to be invested in our communities to reduce pollution and create jobs."

Brown's administration has maintained that it's only proposing to use the $500 million as a loan and will pay it back once the state has devised a more specific plan for how to spend it effectively. But Sacramento has a long history of diverting funds from specific programs only to never return the money again, particularly when the economy sputters.

Moreover, environmentalists note that the state already has a plan in place that includes investments in energy efficiency, mass transit, and renewable energy. And delaying expenditures on programs that will help fight climate now contradicts Brown's call for immediate action. "It can be spent on existing programs; we don't have to reinvent the wheel," Magavern added.

Environmentalists also have been correct to criticize Brown for his plan to spend $26 billion on two giant water tunnels that would divert freshwater from the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The governor's plan could lead to the destruction of endangered fish populations in the delta region and does not adequately address the massive waste of water in California.

Moreover, Brown has ignored a more environmentally friendly plan, known as the Portfolios proposal, that would include a single, much smaller tunnel, emphasizes water conservation and wastewater reuse, would repair aging levees in the delta, would cost the state far less money, and is backed by a coalition of urban water agencies, including East Bay MUD, along with several environmental groups and dozens of liberal politicians.

One of the few environmental issues in which the governor does deserve credit is his call to reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As the Express has reported, anti-growth activists have been using CEQA to block smart-growth housing projects in urban areas that would help fight climate change (see "How an Environmental Law Is Harming the Environment," 3/13). Even the call-to-action report signed by five hundred scientists — which was prepared at Brown's suggestion — noted the impacts of suburban sprawl and long car commutes on climate change and the need for more dense housing in cities.

"It will be necessary to avoid losing more land to suburban sprawl through emphasizing development plans that provide higher-density housing and more efficient infrastructure in existing built-up areas, rather than carving new communities wholesale out of less disturbed surrounding lands," the report stated.

Yet despite being correct about CEQA, Brown's track record on climate change issues has been less than stellar overall. The governor, for example, deserves ample criticism for his soft embrace of fracking, the controversial process that involves shooting toxic chemicals deep into the earth to release trapped natural gas and oil. Fracking not only poses a substantial threat to our dwindling groundwater supplies, but it also is increasing our dependency on fossil fuels. Fracking has spurred a natural gas boon in the United States and a rush for permits in California — at a time when we should be turning away from greenhouse-gas-spewing fuels.

Three-Dot Roundup

State officials ordered the City of Oakland to hand over $32.4 million in proceeds from real estate deals that it made just before the state killed redevelopment in 2011. Oakland officials had expected the state's decision, but it means that the city's finances are much tighter than hoped as the council decides in the next month whether to spend lots more money on police or restore cuts to public services. ... Bay Area civil rights activist Medea Benjamin, the founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, heckled President Obama last week during his national security speech, criticizing the president for failing to close Guantanamo Bay prison as promised. Benjamin also harangued Obama for the administration's deadly drone strike program, which has killed at least four Americans, including an innocent sixteen-year-old boy. ... The Boy Scouts voted for the first time to allow openly gay and lesbian youth to join the organization, but will continue its ban on gay and lesbian adults. ... And the Oakland school board voted to keep its adult education program alive for at least one more year. Board members had voted earlier to eliminate the $1 million program, but changed their minds after Governor Brown's plan to transfer adult education to community colleges was delayed until 2015.

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