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KPBS Midday Edition

Consumer Advocate Questions Whether Governor Brown Is Really 'Green'

Consumer Watchdog's Liza Tucker in the KPBS Studios, March 1, 2017.
Katie Schoolov
Consumer Watchdog's Liza Tucker in the KPBS Studios, March 1, 2017.
Consumer Advocate Questions Whether Governor Brown Is Really 'Green'
A consumer advocate argues California's governor is not as environmentally friendly as he might have you believe.

A Los Angeles-based consumer advocate is raising questions about California Gov. Jerry Brown’s environmental credentials. A recent Consumer Watchdog report questions the governor’s ties to the fossil fuel industry. Liza Tucker talked to KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson about her report.

Q: What did your report look at?

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A: The report was “How Green is Jerry Brown?” and we looked at seven different areas — everything from oil and drilling and fracking to coastal protection. And we found that in six out of seven areas, Jerry Brown was actually “murky” at best. We used a system of “clean” to “murky” to “dirty,” and we found him “murky” or “dirty” in six out of seven of those categories.

Q: And you found that he favors the fossil fuel industry in California, right?

A: Yes, I found that there was some hypocrisy involved here. That, on the one hand, he claims that climate change is the biggest existential threat to the planet. On the other hand, he has done nothing but nurture and protect the fossil fuel industry and the energy industry that relies on natural gas.

Q: There are some direct local impacts of this relationship. What are they?

A: Yes, there are direct local impacts on ratepayers. Several of them. One is, you have one natural gas-fired plant and then another one. Both of them were initially denied by a (Public Utilities Commission) judge as unjustified because you are supposed to turn to all the other methods of avoiding building a natural gas power plant which includes paying people not to use electricity at peak times of the day, it includes rooftop solar, it includes a lot of other things you could be doing. No-bid contracts.

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Q: We’re talking about Carlsbad?

A: Yeah, we’re talking about Carlsbad, and we’re talking about Otay Mesa. We’re talking about Pio Pico. These were no-bid contracts. These were sweetheart deals. Bilateral. These were not competed for. They were not defended in superior court because you can’t take the PUC to superior court. And they’re there to fatten shareholder wallets, more than anything else. I mean, it’s a gold-plated return of 20 years on what — $2.2 billion for Carlsbad? And it’s an outrage. Those things should be stopped in their tracks.

Q: You say that you’re concerned, also, that the governor hasn’t taken advantage of his ability to reform the people who regulate California’s utilities.

A: Correct. There are a lot of people at the (California Public Utilities Commission) who were former associates of his in another life, when he was governor the first time around. For example, Michael Picker, who’s the president now of the PUC, was an aide on toxics during Brown’s first incarnation as governor in the 1970s and ’80s. Michael Picker, in addition, has now been the sort of understudy for Michael Peevey, who’s under criminal investigation for his backroom deal in a Warsaw hotel over sticking ratepayers with the lion’s share of the $4.7 billion cost of closing San Onofre. He goes way back. In fact, Peavey was a friend of Pat Brown’s, Jerry’s father. And he began, on behalf of Pat Brown who founded a nonprofit, a business nonprofit looking at how to balance the economy with the environment.

Q: The governor’s office says, in published reports, that the governor’s record on the climate is unmatched. And here’s what they say: An administration official says the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are exemplary, they’ve increased electricity coming from renewable sources, they’ve calld for an increase in the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road. And in a published story, a spokesperson in the governor’s office called your assertions a bit cuckoo. What do you say to that?

A: I would say that it’s a bit cuckoo to deny that we have a problem here in terms of how we are managing a transition to a clean economy. And those assertions, they’re true. Jerry Brown has done an incredible amount. His renewable energy goals are unparalleled. His efforts to want to put electric cars on the road, the billions of dollars he’s putting into renewable energy projects, all of those things are very laudatory. But when you really look at the record and you juxtapose it, it’s one hand clapping. You know, there’s another hand that has to clap and that’s fossil fuels. We need to be making a faster transition away from them. And there’s no reason why we can’t. But Jerry Brown is very much attached and in some ways, beholden the major investor-owned utilities and oil and gas companies, and that has been reflected in his legislative record.