Jerry Brown: Climate Champion or Big Oil Ally?
California Gov. Jerry Brown poses as an anti-Trump climate-change savior, but his policies support Big Oil’s agenda, says Adam Scow, California director at Food & Water Watch
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News. Last year, California surpassed France as the sixth biggest economy in the world. That means that when its government announces action on climate change, people tend to listen. On July 6th, California governor Jerry Brown announced, with great fanfare, that a climate change summit would be held in San Francisco in 2018. The announcement came via a video message played at the Global Citizen Festival in Hamburg, Germany, ahead of the start of Friday’s G20 summit. Let’s listen to part of what Governor Brown had to say.
JERRY BROWN: I’m Governor Jerry Brown. Greetings from California. Look, it’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together. To roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate changes. Yes, I know President Trump is trying to get out of the Paris agreement, but he doesn’t speak for the rest of America. We in California and in states all across America, believe it’s time to act. It’s time to join together. That’s why at this climate action summit, we’re gonna get it done.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Governor Brown appears to be positioning himself as the anti Trump climate change savior. Is that really the case? Do his policies in fact counter climate change, or are they just business as usual? Joining us from San Francisco to discuss this is Adam Scow, who is the California director at Food and Water Watch. Adam oversees the California organizing program, which tackles some of California’s greatest challenges to the long term health of its water, energy, and food. Welcome to the Real News Network, Adam.
ADAM SCOW: Thank you for having me.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Adam, I had the privilege of being in California earlier this year and I actually passed through some beautiful vineyards in the central valley area. To my astonishment, I saw oil pumps nestled among certain of the vineyards. These pumps were sucking oil out of the ground in the heart of one of the world’s great wine producing regions. It struck me that such images simply don’t fit with the mainstream media’s narrative, where California is typically depicted as an environment leader. When it comes to support for the fossil fuels industry in particular, and fracking especially, how much do the policies of Jerry Brown’s government actually differ from those of the Trump administration?
ADAM SCOW: Well, it’s a great question. The unfortunate fact is that they’re not all that much better. California is a major oil-producing state. It’s the third largest oil producing state in the country. In particular, Kern County is about 10% of the nation’s crude. Indeed there are toxic oil operations, fracking, coexisting near agricultural fields, and creating a lot of pollution to our water and to our air. For the most part, the Brown administration here has supported big oil and their agenda. We’ve seen it in his refusal to ban fracking. In his current support of cap and trade, which allows big oil just to pay for its pollution, instead of making them reduce it, which is what we should be doing.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Let’s talk about cap and trade for a moment. As I’m sure you’ve had plenty of opportunity to discuss, the California government has entered into a cap-and-trade program that took effect, I understand, in early 2012. It’s now partnered with the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Ontario’s where I currently live. Has this cap-and-trade system been effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to what degree, if so?
ADAM SCOW: Well what people need to understand, when you hear cap and trade, a lot of people get bored right away. What they need to understand is that it’s a dangerous program. It is essentially a compromise, a big loop hole that allows polluters just to keep paying to keep polluting. It doesn’t actually mandate that they reduce it. The Republicans used to support this program, back in the ’80’s, when we were dealing with acid rain from the coal fired power plants on the east coast. Cap and trade was the big compromise saying, “Okay, well we’ll let them pollute. They’ve got to pay. We’ll give them some incentives to reduce their pollution, or they can just pay us more money.” Cap and trade is as much about raising money as reducing pollution.
In California, since the program was implemented, there is no evidence that emissions have decreased at all. In fact, since the program was implemented, we’ve seen emissions rise from our refineries. We have 17 refineries in California. Some of the biggest in the country. And also from power plants. We’ve seen them rise or stay the same. It’s completely ineffective. It has raised some money, a slush fund, for some projects. Which some politicians, including Governor Brown, find attractive, but it’s not accomplishing the real goal of our pollution reduction goals here in California. Which is simply to reduce pollution.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: On the other side of the coin, there is of course, the development of renewable energy. That’s one way, although not a sufficient way, of course, to deal with the climate crisis. We have to stop emitting carbon eventually. California, in the United States at any rate, has been a leader in this regard. What specifically has Governor Jerry Brown’s government done to foster the growth of renewable energy in the state?
ADAM SCOW: Well California has had a history of renewable energy, even predating Brown. It was actually Schwarzenegger who signed the heralded 2006 climate bill that said we are gonna start reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. California has been a leader in energy efficiency. We still have a long way to go. Renewable energy has been big. It is being competed with and held back from the explosion of natural gas and fracking. We get a lot of natural gas and fracking imported from other western states. You might have heard, there was a major gas explosion near Los Angeles last year, that dislocated 20,000 people and dumped tons of methane in the air. Indeed there is enormous pressure from the gas lobby to keep up hooked on gas. This is a very big fight right now, to get the state off of gas, towards 100% renewable energy by 2035. That is really the big fight right now. Brown is not really helping that much.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: How do we know that that ambitious and laudable objective of a carbon free economy by 2035 is technologically feasible?
ADAM SCOW: You know, it’s interesting. One of the big gas utilities out here, Sempra, they’re one of the biggest gas utilities in the country. They were the company that owned the Aliso Canyon gas field, the field that blew up. They’re actually investing in a company to manage the grid, to allow for switching between gas and renewables. The vice president of the company at a conference a month ago said, “Well technically we’re ready to go 100% right now. It’s just a matter of managing the grid. We can do that with technology.” In terms of technological feasibility, it’s not that complicated to get energy from wind and sun and tidal, when appropriate. That’s not that complicated. The big obstacle are the political obstacles, and the power of the oil and gas lobby. They are the biggest political spender here in California. 100 million dollars over the last five to ten years. The governor himself has taken several million dollars for his pet projects. They’re largely getting away with what they want. It’s wrong.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well let’s talk about this announcement that was made via video at the G20. This will take place, this global climate action summit, as he’s called it, in September of 2018, in your hometown of San Francisco. According to the statement issued by Governor Brown’s office, it will, “Mark the first time a US state has hosted an international climate change conference with the direct goal of supporting the Paris agreement.” He goes on to state, “The leaders of states, cities, businesses, and other groups will come together to highlight the economic and environmental transition already underway and spur a deeper commitment from national leaders.” In light of everything you’ve seen from this administration, from Governor Jerry Brown’s administration, do you expect anything of real substance to come out of this event?
ADAM SCOW: Not too much. It’s a big distraction. It’s a dog and pony show. The governor wants to give himself a big part on his way out. What better way to invite everybody to San Francisco, a beautiful city. We’ll all have a good time and eat some good food. If we want to get serious about the climate challenge, the governor does not need to wait, does not even need to host a summit. We need countries and states to lead by example. We need to ban fracking, to mandate transitions to 100% renewable energy, to get off of gas. The best way to do that is for a state like California, as you mentioned, the sixth largest world economy. It would be very powerful and positive for the state of California to do that. We don’t really need much permission at all from the federal government.
Unfortunately, Brown has been getting away, Trump has been … The worst thing about Trump, from our perspective here in California, is that he’s made Brown look so good, so Brown can just say a few words and everybody goes, “Oh, he’s a hero.” But we’ve got to look a little bit deeper. We’ve got to demand more. It’s not just a battle of TV theater, which is what American politics seems to be reduced to these days. What we need is real actions. Brown needs to get off of cap in trade. He needs to ban fracking and mandate a real transition to renewable energy. We don’t have to wait for a summit in San Francisco next year to do that. He can start that now.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well this has been Dimitri Lascaris speaking to Adam Scow, the California director at Food and Water Watch. Thank you very much for joining us today, Adam.
ADAM SCOW: Thank you for having me.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News.