Jerry Brown Is Embarrassing California

Posted on 25 October 2013

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By Adam Scow

Food & Water Watch

Sometimes talk isn’t just cheap, it’s downright misleading. While he preaches about climate change being the single greatest challenge to mankind, Governor Brown’s current policies would actually worsen our climate crisis. Once perceived to be a trailblazer on the environment, Governor Brown is now siding with the oil and gas industry to push fracking at the expense of our climate, health and water.

Widespread fracking in California will make climate change much worse. The Monterey shale, a rock formation that stretches from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, is estimated to hold over 15 billion barrels of dirty oil. Even if there were a clean way to extract this oil, which there isn’t, consuming this oil would release 7.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, creating a climate impact similar to the one estimated for the Keystone XL pipeline. And when you factor in methane, the most potent greenhouse gas, which commonly escapes during fracking and drilling operations, the cumulative climate impact of fracking the Monterey shale could be worse than Keystone.

The Governor’s response to fracking has been a tale of the bad and the ugly. After firing the head of the Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and replacing her with a pro-industry appointee, the Governor has openly celebrated the prospect of widespread fracking, acidizing and other extreme extraction of oil in the state. He recently brokered legislation to allow fracking and other extreme extraction techniques to continue indefinitely. Unable to deny the climate impact of fracking, the Governor has said he needs to “balance” climate change with a supposed “fabulous economic opportunity” that fracking presents.

Yet the numbers show that a potential economic boom from fracking is really one reserved for the oil companies and not the people of California. Kern County, which accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s oil production and is estimated to hold over 50 percent of California’s oil reserves, has an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent, considerably higher than the state average of 8.9 percent. Kern County also has some of the worst water and air quality in the nation and among the highest rates of poverty and hunger in California.

Fracking has been happening in Kern for at least the last five years and these grim statistics have not improved. There are 13,000 people employed by the oil and gas industry in Kern. By contrast, California’s small but rapidly growing solar industry, which generates 2 percent of the state’s electricity, employs 43,000 people who have long-term and sustainable jobs, unlike fracking jobs that are dangerous and temporary. With the right policies and incentives, a massive expansion of solar and renewable power could create over 100,000 jobs for Californians. Germany, with a less sunny climate than California, is already en route to getting 20 percent of its energy from solar power.

Some are flirting with the idea of an oil extraction tax so that California can get a cut of the profits, but this approach is misguided and will undermine California’s transition to a renewable energy economy. Making our budget financially dependent upon oil extraction is a Faustian bargain that would be environmentally devastating and economically unsustainable. The oil industry currently opposes such a measure but as the rapidly growing movement led by Californians Against Fracking continues to gain strength, we suspect that the extraction tax is a deal that the oil companies could agree to in exchange for being able to frack our state.

Polls from across California show that Governor Brown is out of step with Californians on fracking since a majority of respondents either want a ban or moratorium. It’s been recently reported that the Governor has taken over $2.5 million from oil and gas interests and that the Western States Petroleum Association spent over $2 million lobbying the State legislature to oppose moratorium legislation in the first half of 2013. According to the American Lung Association, the oil lobby has spent over $45 million in California since 2009.

Because of the Governor’s lack of leadership, local communities are now looking to exercise their right to ban fracking at the local level. Santa Cruz County has recently passed a moratorium on fracking and there is legislation in the Los Angeles City Council to do the same. Several other communities are considering similar measures. At the statewide level Californians Against Fracking, which launched in May of 2013 with the support of 100 organizations and 100,000 Californians, is on track to double its growth by the end of the year and will continue to call on Governor Brown to place an immediate moratorium on fracking.

By supporting fracking, Governor Brown is not only embarrassing himself, he’s also embarrassing California, a state that has enjoyed recognition for leading the way on environmental policy. Governor Brown’s record reminds us of the saying, “it’s not whether you can talk the talk, it’s whether you can walk the walk.” Governor Brown needs to get both his talk and his walk straight and fall in-step with the nearly 200,000 Californians who have called for a ban on fracking.

Adam Scow is the California director of the public interest nonprofit Food & Water Watch.