Brown juggles constituencies on climate

paris_eiffel_tower_climateRelishing the opportunity to take a signature issue to a world stage, Gov. Jerry Brown had his political work cut out for him in taking California’s approach to environmental policy to the next level amid the United Nations’ so-called COP21 summit in Paris.

Long known for successfully navigating a path between the Golden State’s political extremes when his own agenda called for it, Brown has found himself facing a complex, shifting set of constituencies at home. In Paris, he has sought to present a policy vision capable of satisfying most, if not all. 

An international turn

To his left, Brown has confronted activists and advocates displeased with the limits of his approach. While Brown peeled away cap-and-trade funds for his beloved high-speed rail project, the environmental left cried foul. (At the end of a speech in Paris, Brown was even “heckled by a group of protesters opposed to carbon offset programs they said could hurt indigenous people,” as the Sacramento Bee observed.) But to his right, within his own party, Brown has had to contend with moderate and electorally vulnerable Democrats who refused to go along with this year’s ambitious legislation to slash emissions yet further, as CalWatchdog previously reported.

Although the bullet train has been hamstrung by environmental impact and other concerns, Brown has found in the Paris talks a way to dramatize both the significance and workability of his plans on climate. By pressing ahead with regulations that won the approval of enough Democrats and the acceptance of enough Republicans, Brown positioned himself as the global leader in actually implementing a large-scale emissions policy. Consequently, as the Los Angeles Times noted, “California officials have rolled out the welcome mat in the last two years for representatives from more than three dozen countries — including China, Kazakhstan, France and Abu Dhabi [United Arab Emirates]. And with a slew of agreements with foreign leaders, Brown and administration officials have turned California’s Air Resources Board and Environmental Protection Agency into de facto diplomatic organizations.” For Democrats, Brown’s initiative and prestige has struck a reassuring contrast with Washington, where Congress has not looked to California as a model.

Dodging conflict 

Even for Republicans, Brown’s approach has avoided some major political hangups. Although few in the party, even in California, have embraced an emissions agenda as aggressive as Brown’s, his state-and-local-first strategy has enabled him to largely bracket traditional Republican opposition to handing the federal government sweeping new powers around regulating carbon. “We don’t have to wait for the federal government to say jump. We’re already moving,” he told Time. 

“The Compact of States and Regions, a consortium of sub-national governments from six continents, announced commitments on Dec. 6 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a cumulative 12.4 gigatons by 2030 when compared to business as usual projections,” the magazine noted, adding that the entire United States emits between 5 and 6 gigatons each year.

Of late, state Republicans have complained that terrorism should take political precedence over climate. “Climate change has ebbed and flowed for eons. Mankind can deal with it intelligently. But I have serious doubts about our resolve in dealing with terrorists,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Roseville, according to the San Jose Mercury News. But the reaction to Brown’s doings in Paris has been muted. 

Brown’s transcendental spiritual sensibility has also shown the ability to shield him from more vociferous Republican criticism. “Modernity has two major elements: individualism and oil,” he also told Time. “And those two we have to transform.” Not typical GOP talking points — but of a piece with the wave of Silicon Valley innovation that has been defined in large part by the sharing economy on the one hand and vast leaps in alternate-energy transportation on the other. California Republicans have not been afraid to show their political support for sharing-economy and transportation stalwarts like Airbnb and Uber, who have repeatedly run afoul of the municipal officials and state regulators often accused by the state GOP of stifling job growth and economic productivity. 

Related Articles

Controller Chiang’s payroll website earning praise for openness, transparency

Federal officials continue to reshuffle the management of, with Kurt DelBene, a former president of the Microsoft Office Division, tapped as the

Recall campaign against CA judge mounts

  Facing a never-before-seen push to oust him because of a ruling, a California judge has become the focus of a

Gun groups urge Supreme Court to take up SF gun case

More than a dozen Second Amendment groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a high-profile challenge to