Jerry Brown: a new direction on eco-issues?
With all the budget cutting and tax talk coming out of Sacramento, newly elected California Gov. Jerry Brown's eco-agenda might seem to be on the back burner. But UCLA Law School's environmental policy activists are aiming to nudge it to the fore.
"California's economic future depends on its environmental health," warned a report released Thursday by the school's Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment and the Evan Frankel Environmental Law & Policy program. It cautioned that the public health costs of failing to protect natural resources "will prove to be a drain on the state's economy."
The report, "An Environmental Blueprint for California," amounts to a dense, 19-page wish list of initiatives, some of which build on former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's policies, such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by mid-century. Others would change course, such as tightening toxic chemical regulations that the Schwarzenegger administration had softened in response to industry opposition.
"The budget situation creates risk that many important programs will be cut," said Sean B. Hecht, executive director of UCLA's Environmental Law Center. "Some interest groups are trying incorrectly to frame environmental protection, clean energy and climate protection as detrimental to the economy." He noted that voters in November approved Proposition 26, a measure requiring two-thirds approval of governing bodies for environmental and other fees on industry.
Some of the blueprint's recommendations are tough, even politically quixotic: Increasing the gas tax to fund public transportation; pushing congestion pricing to charge drivers fees to enter traffic-choked areas; funding state parks through vehicle fees — a measure rejected by voters in the November election; hiking insurance for homes and businesses in areas of high wildfire risk; and forcing local governments to pay for firefighting in those areas.
Brown takes office "at a critical moment in California's history [when] the state's long-term prosperity is vulnerable to climate change, energy insecurity, environmental threats to public health and a growing scarcity of key resources," the report declared. "The governor has a tremendous opportunity to set our state on the right path."
Other recommendations include:
- Paying more consumers higher prices for electricity they generate on their rooftops and feed back to the grid — a mechanism known as a "feed-in tariff." Feed-in tariffs caused solar energy to explode in Germany but have been fought by California utilities, which prefer big, centralized power plants.
Hecht said the report's authors had not spoken to the governor or his aides about their recommendations yet. But he added, "We hope our report will give the governor more confidence that environmental issues are worth spending political capital on."
Besides Hecht, the authors of the blueprint are Cara Horowitz, executive director of the Emmett Center, and UCLA environmental law fellow M. Rhead Enion.
-- Margot Roosevelt
Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown at a budget briefing. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times