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At West Coast Climate Pact Signing, Brown Justifies His Support for Fracking

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown has made climate protection a centerpiece of his policy agenda, yet he has also embraced the controversial technology of fracking to tap his state's huge shale oil reserves by signing SB 4. He explains his position here.
November 2, 2013, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The international climate pact event (PDF) held in San Francisco on Oct. 28 featuring the governors of the three contiguous West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington and (via teleconference) the premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia, was supposed to be a celebratory event. But San Jose Mercury News environmental reporter Paul Rogers, noting the demonstrators against fracking that had gathered outside, asked Gov. Jerry Brown, "(H)ow do you square your support of the fracking process in California with your statement that climate change is an existential threat to the world"?

At Monday's event, in response to questions from this newspaper, Brown offered his most extensive remarks yet defending his administration's fracking policy.

Brown said he saw no contradiction in calling climate change "the world's greatest existential challenge" Monday while refusing to impose a moratorium on fracking -- as New York has done, and as many of the environmental groups who supported his campaign for governor in 2010 now want for California.

His response boiled down to the way he saw SB 4, the bill that many environmental groups either opposed or had withdrawn their support after last minute amendments were added, as the Environmental Working Group's Bill Allayaud noted in his summary of the final bill.

"As you know, I signed legislation that will create the most comprehensive environmental analysis of fracking to date," Brown said. "It will take a year, year and a half, maybe a little longer. And I hope that all the people, critics and supporters alike, will participate and offer their best thoughts."

Rogers added that "Brown noted that SB4 requires the state to conduct an independent, peer-reviewed scientific study of fracking's impact on air, groundwater, wildlife and climate by Jan. 1, 2015. That document will help policymakers, he said."

"Nobody is talking about doing anything (in the Monterey Shale) for an extended period of time -- and certainly not before the environmental document," Brown said. "I think we ought to give science a chance."

In short, that was Brown's answer - that the legislation calls for a rigorous examination of the controversial practice of fracking, rather than the more simplistic moratorium. "We ought to give science a chance", was the way he put it. Brown went on to, ironically, praise the California Environmental Quality Act which will be used to prepare the document. Brown had infamously "once called reforming CEQA, California's 43-year-old landmark environmental impact law, 'doing the Lord's work'."

At the event, Gov. Brown, Ore. Gov. John Kitzhaber, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee, and BC Environment Minister Honourable Mary Polak signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy (PDF) that "lays the groundwork for the region to create the kind of tough policy that we'll need to create in order to have an impact on global warming", wrote the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle in their strong endorsement of the pact.

On the Mercury News audio tape, David Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle poses the next question (after Rogers) to the governors of Washington and Oregon on how they plan to go about putting a price on carbon - one of the goals of the pact. Both California and British Columbia already do so: B.C. has a carbon tax and California has a cap and trade market for carbon emissions. While the answers are barely audible, they can be read in Baker's piece. Turns out they will pursue a carbon regulation, not a price.

Washington and Oregon will adopt "low carbon fuel standards," policies that encourage the use of alternative fuels. California and British Columbia already have those policies in place, despite court challenges to get rid of them.

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 in San Jose Mercury - Science
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