THE BLOG
01/11/2015 12:40 am ET Updated Jan 13, 2015

Jerry Brown's Big Green Inaugural Week

"Toward that end, I propose three ambitious goals to be accomplished within the next 15 years: Increase from one-third to 50 percent our electricity derived from renewable sources; Reduce today's petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; Double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner. ...

"Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system."

Governor Jerry Brown
Fourth Inaugural Address


Governor Jerry Brown made some history with his inauguration for a fourth term as governor of the nation's largest state.

Governor Jerry Brown isn't much of a party animal, as his latest low-key inaugural festivities suggest, but he showed again that he does have a knack for making a set of impressions. In a consequential week centering on the beginning of his record fourth term as Governor of California, Brown unveiled a very dramatic ramping up of the state's already pioneering renewable energy, conservation, and climate change control programs, discussed next steps in a raft of other programmatic reforms, symbolically broke ground on the only big high-speed rail program in America, and introduced yet another balanced budget for a state not long ago mired in chronic fiscal crisis, designed to meet emerging needs while reining in the appetites of Brown's naturally free-spending fellow Democrats.

In other words, it was an inaugural week focused throughout on green, in several senses of the word. Here's the full text of Brown's Fourth Inaugural Address, which doubles as the annual State of the State Address.

So much for the idea that some have had that Brown is going off gently into that good night on a nostalgic round of care-taking over old programs. These are big, aggressive programs, scaled for the nation's biggest and still growing state. And some of them are programs important for not just the nation as a whole, but the planet.

The most dramatic of Brown's proposals in his big green inaugural week are of course his plans to to dramatically accelerate California's already nation-leading efforts in renewable energy, conservation, new vehicles, and thus also its landmark climate change program. What Barack Obama has been unable to do at the national level, Brown aims to do using the fulcrum of California.

Fifty percent of California's electric power from renewable resources. A 50 percent reduction in the use of petroleum products in vehicles. Doubling the energy efficiency of California's building standards. All in the next 15 years.

California had already long been the nation's leader in energy efficiency since Brown's first go-round as governor, when he decided to countermand utility plans for dozens of nuclear power plants in favor of dramatically cutting the state's per capita electric power usage. Then the state took another leap forward in energy efficiency under Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now Brown plans to double what's come before in our dwellings and work places.

And he also aims to cut fossil fuel usage in the still oil-dependent fleet of vehicles, which can be done by accelerating the adoption of electric and other alternatively fueled vehicles and by making gasoline-powered vehicles more fuel efficient.

But arguably the most dramatic is his plan to to accelerate the fundamental transformation of the state's electric power system. It wasn't all that long when the idea of having 20 percent of the state's power come from renewable energy like solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal was viewed by many as pie-in-the-sky utopianism.

Actually, it was 2002. The state was just emerging from its electric power crisis, largely invented by merchant power generators manipulating the electric power deregulation scheme that was one of Governor Pete Wilson's signature programs in the late '90s.

I remember discussing it in 2002 with then Governor Gray Davis, Brown's former chief of staff. He was happy to get the state back on the renewables path originally blazed by the Brown administration in the 1970s. Environmental advocates floated the idea of 20 percent renewables by 2010; Davis wanted to be sure the plan he approved was certainly achievable. So the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), the national leader, became 20 percent by 2017. Davis installed former utility chief Michael Peevey, a pro-business Democrat, to get the utilities to go along instead of wage semi-covert war against the RPS.

Coincidentally, later that year, I talked with Arnold Schwarzenegger about the RPS. He proved to be enthusiastic about renewable energy, having seen it work in Europe, and said if he were governor -- he was then looking at running in 2006 -- he would accelerate the renewable standard and work to make it bigger.

A year later, Schwarzenegger found himself running in the dramatic recall to succeed Davis. Despite all the Republicans he'd surrounded himself with, he didn't back away from his renewable energy commitment. As governor, he advanced the 20 percent requirement from 2017 to 2010, then issued an executive order demanding 33 percent by 2020.

Billionaire Republican Meg Whitman didn't support that and could have reversed the order, but was crushed by Brown, who decidedly did support the accelerated RPS, in the 2010 election. One of Brown's early acts was to get the 33 percent standard enacted in legislation.

At a little over 25 percent now (having come a bit short of the 20 percent standard in 2010), the state is well on its way there now. Experts say that the utilities, confident of meeting the standard, have been looking to stay at the minimum and not expand renewables further. So much for that.


Brown had a word or two for naysayers at the ceremonial groundbreaking for California's big high-speed rail project in Fresno.

Brown's 50 percent renewable move this week came as a shock to many, with the head of the California Business Roundtable denouncing it. Tea Party demonstrators came out, a dozen or so strong, in Fresno, to attack Brown's high-speed rail groundbreaking. Career-long Brown opponent columnist Dan Walters, (See my 2012 news feature on decades of attacks and getting it wrong -- Walters predicted a future of Republican dominance during the Pete Wilson days, opined that 2010 could be a very good year for California Republicans, and has consistently attacked renewable-oriented projects in his role as the most consistent promoter of the "Moonbeam" trope -- criticized all of it.)

It's all impossible, you see. Or perhaps it's just necessary.

"Edward O. Wilson, one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists, offered this sobering thought: 'Surely one moral precept we can agree on is to stop destroying our birthplace, the only home humanity will ever have. The evidence for climate warming, with industrial pollution as the principal cause, is now overwhelming. Also evident upon even casual inspection is the rapid disappearance of tropical forests and grasslands and other habitats where most of the diversity of life exists.' With these global changes, he went on to say, 'we are needlessly turning the gold we inherited from our forebears into straw, and for that we will be despised by our descendants.'"

from Brown's Fourth Inaugural Address

Actually, it's not impossible. One needn't even invoke the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Program, arguably less important for the planet.

The fact is that virtually every environmental innovation to come out of California, beginning with the control of smog, has been denounced by the usual suspects as impossible. Or impossibly costly. That's all been wrong.

Environmental regulation has long been a forcing function for technological innovation, also a hallmark of the California approach. What Brown is doing is on a big scale, and very expansive, but it will work. Because it has to work.

Brown sees these programs and high-speed rail as continuing California's role of stimulating new national and global policies, as has generally happened with such environmental programs in the past. With climate change approaching a dire stage, he is insistent about these programs.

He also talked in his inaugural address about other elements of his ongoing programmatic reform agenda, including water, corrections realignment, education reform, Medi-Cal expansion, and reform of unsustainable public pension and health care benefits. Any one of two of which could be the subjects of major pieces under other circumstances.


First Lady/Special Counsel Anne Gust Brown delivered a heartfelt and amusing introduction of her husband at his fourth inauguration as Governor of California.

Brown of course has fresh funding for the decades-in-the-making bullet train, designed to preempt expansion of the fossil fuel-intensive air passenger complex, in the new state budget introduced at the end of his big green inaugural week. These funds come courtesy of revenues from the state's greenhouse gas cap-and-trade market enacted by Schwarzenegger and fully implemented, over heavy opposition, under Brown. (Key elements of the budget.)

The budget contains big increases in K-12 education and community college spending with much of it directed to lower income schools per Brown's education reform effort. There's also increased spending for Medi-Cal as part of the state's very full embrace of Obamacare, again initiated by Schwarzenegger and fully implemented by Brown. As a result, 32 percent of Californians can take part in the state's federally-backed health care program.

Brown did not choose to fund further expansion of the system to illegal immigrants who've been exempted by Obama from deportation. Brown instead puts big money into the state's new rainy day fund and to paying down debt, including the last of the $15 billion budget deficit bond that came at the end of the Davis administration and beginning of the Schwarzenegger administration.

These things upset quite a few on the left, as does Brown's refusal to restore funding to social programs cut during the great recession by Schwarzenegger and himself.

And he has spurned legislative calls for new programs to fight the decades-long national and international trends toward a two-tier economy.

Brown argues that he is already doing more for lower-income Californians, working to equalize opportunity at the front end of the life cycle with his reform emphasis on more funding for lower-income schools and with the big expansion of government-funded health care for a third of the population.

While he also increases funding for the state's public university systems, Brown refused to budget the amount that University of California bureaucrats demanded to avoid the tuition increase recently approved by a compliant UC Board of Regents. This sets up a very interesting confrontation about which I'll have much more going forward.

A lot of water has passed beneath the proverbial bridge since, but I've seen no real reason to alter my view of the UC bureaucracy and its compliant regents since working, then unsuccessfully, in the late 1970s to get the University to divest its holdings in corporations doing business in apartheid South Africa.

Fred Dutton, then a regent appointed by Governor Pat Brown after working as his executive secretary, who went on to serve as Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign manager, explained how the status quo captures so many who are appointed to the UC Board of Regents. The bureaucracy coopts, then all resist changes to established practices.

Dutton, who also held senior posts in the JFK White House and State Department, was one of the most fascinating characters in American politics, though few know who he was today. He was no political choir boy, nothwithstanding his leading roles with Pat Brown and Bobby Kennedy. For he ultimately reacted to the assassination of RFK by becoming what many would regard as a black hat. When I met him, he was known as "Fred of Arabia" for his lead role in the US on behalf of Arab oil interests, which includes his post as chief US lawyer for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He was also something of a connoisseur, though I don't think the younger Brown knew it, of the emerging political moves of his old boss's famous son.

I wonder what Fred of Arabia would make of Jerry Brown's big green inaugural week.

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