California Controller John Chiang Honored with Environmental Leadership Award
By Jenesse Miller
With a dedication that may not immediately be associated with his job description as the state's chief fiscal officer, Controller John Chiang has been a leader in the fight to safeguard California’s environment.
Controller Chiang has worked to make California's finances more transparent and accountable to the public, and fought to weed out waste, fraud and abuse of public money. But what earned him the California League of Conservation Voter's Environmental Leadership Award at our annual gala event this week is his commitment to protecting the state's vast and precious natural resources for all Californians.
In particular, the Controller has led the effort to protect our state's more than 1,000 miles of coastline, which is crucial to the state and national economy, producing more than half a million jobs in California and 2 million nationally.
As a member of the State Lands Commission, Chiang cast the deciding vote against what would have been the first new off-shore oil drilling lease in 40 years. His decision was based on the secrecy of the project, the inability of the commission to enforce its provisions, and the overriding concern that approving the new lease may open California up to more off-shore oil drilling.
In response to a 2009 report indicating that sea levels are projected to rise 16 inches by 2050, and 55 inches by 2100, the Controller also led the drive at the State Lands Commission to assess what plans are in place to address sea level rise. When a survey indicated few plans had been made, the Controller sponsored legislation requiring plans be developed and implemented.
Chiang also voted to deny a lease for a Liquefied Natural Gas terminal off of the coast of Oxnard because the emissions from the tankers and the terminal would have adversely impacted Southern California residents. Moreover, Chiang believed the project wasn't in line with the spirit of California's landmark policies that move us toward cleaner, renewable energy alternatives.
The Controller also has advocated for increased disclosure by companies doing business with CalPERS and CalSTRS of risks associated with climate change that could impact long-term investment returns. In 2008, at the Investor Summit on Climate Risk at the United Nations Headquarters, Chiang announced his initiative to survey investment managers in the CalPERS and CalSTRS portfolios on their ability to evaluate climate risks and opportunities, and ask them to consider adopting a checklist to evaluate best practices of corporate governance regarding climate disclosure. Both funds adopted this first-in-the-nation initiative as part of their corporate governance principles, and are engaging companies and investment managers on these important steps.
Continuing his leadership on climate change, earlier this year, Controller Chiang introduced legislation to create affordable energy-efficient retrofits for commercial buildings throughout California as a way to create jobs and reduce businesses' carbon footprint.
Jenesse Miller is the Communications Director for the California League of Conservation Voters, where this article originally appeared.