Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Winds of Political Change

On the evening before the now infamous and furious fire broke out across my community in Santa Rosa,  I was drafting a letter of thanks to the many thousands of voters who supported my recent candidacy to help direct one of the worldʻs largest public pension funds. By 3 am my partner and I would take thirty minutes to select a few cherished items before fleeing the fires appearing on the ridge lines.

As the LA Times Editorial Board would write about the fires that began that evening, "It may well be the stateʻs worst catastrophe in recorded history by any measure...The superstorms that scientists warned would result from climate change? They are here. The day of reckoning isnʻt in the future. It is now." ("The Climate Change Fire Alarm from Northern California," LA Times, 10/12/17).

The connection between my writing on the politics of climate change is one that I have made for many years in the California Legislature as well as in public life: the various disasters we are witnessing often share a common linkage to the rise of fossil-fueled crises around the globe. For those who think of our changing climates as a remote threat, the events in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and California are a wake-up call. 

The cause of harrowing fossil-fueled disasters will continue to be debated as well they should. One cannot immediately conclude that the specific fire still enveloping my community can be easily assigned to the burning of fossil fuels. As we recognize, the construction of scientific proofs donʻt move as swiftly as the fires continuing to threaten my neighbors. What climate scientists and others have made clear is that we will increasingly be subjected to these kinds of destructive events by ignoring the over-sized role of specific sources, including the burning of fossil fuels. Yet, this parsing of causal factors overlooks the larger destructive role of fossil fuels in the national economy.

A central theme in my candidacy to become a board member with the California Public Employeesʻ Retirement System was designed to call attention to the linkage between how this pension fund manages public investments, especially those investments supporting the fossil fuel industries. As a participant in many political struggles, I have argued for many years that treating a variety of large-scale threats as isolated events - from pesticide poisonings of farmworkers and consumers to the pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans to the contamination of entire air basins to the proliferation of a multitude of toxic products - disguises the common trait for so many of these damaging events to an economy based on fossil fuels.

Despite the efforts of powerful industries seeking to reinforce a climate of denial and delayed actions, millions of Californians comprehend that the converging evidence gathered by scientists across the globe means that we must expeditiously exit fossil fuels. Not according to a time table designed to convenience corporations, but to foster a robust economy built on achieving a healthy economy for workers, communities, and those who too often are subjected to the damaging effects of a poisoned economy. It is at this juncture that public investments must engage in more decisive actions.

To date, the efforts to draw on public investments as a vehicle for supporting a healthy economy have been feeble. Efforts to divest, impose strict controls on damaging corporate decisions, redirect investments toward alternative energy, jobs and communities have been dismal. Worse still, CalPERS decision-making has been characterized by secrecy, curtailing public participation, and quieting the voices of those calling for actions to place California on a stronger path to an economy where the benefits are shared by all, not simply the stratospheric interests of the most wealthy.

The purpose of public investment decisions must surely include an assessment of whether certain industries now pose too great a risk to society at large. The evidence of risk associated with fossil fueled industries is becoming increasingly evident; whatever the short-term dividends that might accrue to CalPERS beneficiaries, the damaging effects are already far too expensive for the larger society.  The disasters of 2017 undermine the arguments of so-called financial benefits to pension funds which pale in comparison to the astronomical costs required to address the negative consequences of rising seas, worsening fires, and super storms.

Indeed, the arguments advanced by environmentalists decades ago are now being supplemented by the energy and financial analysts arguing that fossil fuels have outlived their usefulness. The alternatives to coal, the internal combustion engine, toxic products and associated industries are largely at hand. When joined with the consensus statements by scientists calling for an immediate economic transition as essential to avoid worsening disasters, the table has been set for everyone to join in the herculean effort to transform our economy.

While CalPERS represents a tiny cog in this effort, like other elements for one of the worldʻs largest economies, its potential influence is considerable. In order to hasten our economic transition, the members of CalPERS Board of Administration need to devise a much more aggressive agenda....

(stay tuned for more on this story)


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Los Angeles Presentation on September 21st !





COME JOIN BRUCE JENNINGS AT OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE




For those readers in the Los Angeles area, I am hoping you will join me at noon on Thursday,

September 21st at Occidental College where I will make a presentation on my book -

The War on California: Defeating Oil, Oligarchs and the New Tyranny.  I will join several of

Los Angelesʻ most notable public interest advocates in a not-to-be-missed discussion.


I hope you can join us at this free event !

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Lessons of Harvey

Todayʻs post is relatively short in an effort to respond to a question posed to me by a group of CalPERS members; in fact, they are quite angry.

Whatʻs the source of their anger? They are convinced I am covertly engaged in what several of them refer to as "social engineering" - a reference that is a bit vague, but seems to imply that they simply want the CalPERS Board to grow their investments. They appear agitated that considerations beyond making money are nonsense and have no place in the management of their retirement monies.

To be fair, their argument has traditionally received the support among many conventional financial managers in previous times. But as I noted in a recent post, such thinking is becoming very quickly challenged by not just critics of ʻold schoolʻ financial management, but large numbers of informed citizens.  The shortcomings of the older simply "growing our money" is perhaps best illustrated by the most recent natural disaster - Hurricane Harvey.

I question the notion that Harvey is natural because of the mountain of scientific evidence offered by climate and other scientists around the world. For most of the scientists, Harveyʻs severity and damage is linked to a variety of human activities, but especially specific industries including the fossil fuel industries; it is why many of us have taken to calling such events fossil-fueled storms.

It is precisely the link between the burning of fossil fuels and the threats to civilization that causes an increasing number of people to raise questions about the consequences of their investments. Indeed, investment managers across the globe now wonder whether investments in fossil fuels are not simply too risky. The economic destruction in Houston, now estimated close to $200 billion is ironically linked to the complex of petrochemical plants that have fostered these fossil-fueled storms. For many residents in the region, monthly pension checks do not begin to compensate them for the destruction of their homes, neighborhoods, and livelihood.

The question for CalPERS members should not be limited to simply how fast their investments can grow, but whether the negative consequences of certain kinds of investments will overwhelm whatever financial benefit they believe they are going to receive in the future. For those who think that even asking the question is non-sense, I suggest you take the time to consider what just happened to Houston. Or what appears about to happen to Florida. Or what may be on the horizon for many communities across California.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Broader Social Consequences of Investment Decisions

In an essay appearing last month in Institutional Investor ("Avenue of Giants,"July 1, 2017), Ashby Monk argued for a broader definition of fiduciary duty. In polling more than 40 large "pensions and sovereigns," Mr. Monk noted that more than half of those surveyed rejected the notion that their decisions would be guided by the consequences for the community they inhabit. The rationale, it appears, is such considerations are quite simply beyond their fiduciary duties.

Mr. Monk went on to note that narrowly defined notions of fiduciary duty, however rational for individual investors or pension managers fosters damaging consequences for the larger investment community. Monks went on to raise a series of questions:

  • Where will the breakout innovations in our industry come from if investors are bound by a prudent-person rule?
  • If some investors hide fees paid to external managers, doesnʻt such secrecy prevent boards from understanding the true cost of producing these returns?
  • If the price of ʻaccessʻ to a given fund is conditioned by outrageous terms or side letters, doesnʻt this further empower private managers to extract higher fees over time? 
Each of these questions illustrated practices by institutional investors posing a larger problem for pension fund managers. A too narrowly defined notion of fiduciary duty overlooks the negative  consequences for not just beneficiaries, but also the larger society. As mentioned in my earlier postings, these are problems requiring, among other remedies, a radical transparency.

Yet even a much greater transparency is not enough to address what is perhaps the most damaging disconnect between a narrowly defined notion of fiduciary duty and the most threatening of consequences in our time. As Monks notes, many institutional investorsʻ strict definition of fiduciary duty discourages them from considering climate change as a legitimate issue.

It is clearly evident that among the pivotal issues confronting all Californians, is the urgent need to more fully comprehend the true costs of a fossil-fueled economy. Whatever the short-term calculus of satisfying a narrowly defined fiduciary duty at CalPERS, perpetuating fossil fuels and associated industries poses an existential threat to the survival of human civilization beyond the 21st century. As Governor Jerry Brown has noted, for those doubting the magnitude of climate threats, one only has to peruse the consensus statements by climate scientists (e.g. IPCC) to understand the especially damaging role of fossil fuels.

For these reasons, it is important for all voters to understand that the election of public-at-large board members of CalPERS in September is not merely a narrow choice regarding some abstract discussions about fiduciary duties and investment returns; elections of all sorts - from city councils to state treasurers to board members for one of the worldʻs largest pension funds will play an increasingly crucial role in making the urgently needed changes for transitioning to a new economy.

I look forward to posting more on this topic in future posts....and thanks for your readership and commentary.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Radical Transparency

As noted by Bloomberg News some days ago, "a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, hardly a left-wing Donald Trump critic, called on the president to adopt a new strategy on the Russia probe: "radical transparency." The recommended course of action is perhaps also fitting for the members of the Board of Administration at the California Public Employeesʻ Retirement System (CalPERS).

Among the harshest criticisms leveled at CalPERS is the lack of transparency surrounding varied decisions combined with a steadfast refusal to engage in open discussions regarding its policies. Indeed, another candidate as a board member at CalPERS has detailed sustained efforts by staff and current board members to prevent the necessary deliberations regarding specific policies.

The red-flag rising from such episodes at CalPERS is familiar terrain for anyone who has conducted reviews of state agency practices. In various over-sight investigations/hearings I conducted over my years with Californiaʻs Legislature, similar efforts to prevent more fulsome discussions often signaled practices that directors of agencies wanted to remove from public view. Some observers of CalPERS have referred to such issues as a problem of "CalPERS culture." Framing the issue as one of CalPERSʻ culture, however, is unnecessarily vague in addition to obscuring what needs to be done to turn things around at CalPERS.

Others in Sacramento have analyzed the so-called cultural problem at CalPERS more succinctly: "Look," as stated by one of my experts from the world of finance described the problem to me some years ago, "if you walk into CalPERS and talk to one or another of their financial consultants, you readily comprehend that too many of these folks view their jobs as preparing their vita for the next available position at Carlyle, Goldman, or some other outfit." The CalPERS problem, from this perspective, is not an abstract, fuzzy cultural attribute - it more closely resembles a more traditional problem of agency capture by a private interest. Too many in top management positions perceive their job as meshing their responsibilities with large financial interests, including private equity firms, instead of a career defined by serving the beneficiaries and people of California.

As still other critics have written, CalPERS management has become wedded with a system of rewards promoting risky behaviors when it comes to investments. Paralleling the kind of analysis provided by Michael Lewis (The Big Short), the CalPERS organization shares a potentially dangerous trait marked by many other "masters of the universe" from the world of finance - they have no skin in the game. Losing beneficiariesʻ money is simply an abstract risk having little bearing on various other rewards.

This system of rewards and compensation, revolving doors with clients, and critical reviews of management practices requires a much higher level of scrutiny. And these are only the initial steps necessary to ensure that the primary objectives of serving both beneficiaries and the public is on firm foundation requires a transformation from management practices obscuring decision-making at CalPERS. It is a policy premised on what we might term a "radical transparency."


Friday, August 4, 2017

Public versus Private Comparisons




A few weeks ago, while visiting friends at Californiaʻs capitol, a former colleague mentioned the horrible gap that CalPERS faces with respect to unfunded obligations. If you have followed the discussion of public pension funds over recent years, it is a common basis for beginning discussions about the troubling state of finances facing future generations. Not unlike the discussions surrounding social security, the topic typically moves to a linked discussion: why we must turn to ʻless generousʻ retirement benefits.  The fact that the less generous alternatives (401ks) have their own disastrous performance for a generation of retirees relying on such programs never seems to enter the discussion.

Part and parcel of the agenda for ʻdown-sizingʻ pension obligations is the message that public sector pensions quite simply donʻt measure up to private sector performance. The underlying theme is if CalPERS were run more like those plans managed by private corporations, things would be much better. All of which might sound compelling, unless one happens to have come across recent reports published by that hot-bed of radical financial reporting, Bloomberg News.

S&P 500’s Biggest Pension Plans Face $382 Billion Funding Gap


Brandon Kochkodin and Laurie Meisler provided the following on Bloomberg News: 
 
"People who rely on their company pension plans to fund their retirement may be in for a shock: Of the 200 biggest defined-benefit plans in the S&P 500 based on assets, 186 aren’t fully funded. Simply put, they don’t have enough money to fund current and future retirees. The situation worsened for more than half of these funds from fiscal 2015 to 2016. A big part of the reason is the poor returns they got from their assets in the superlow interest-rate environment that followed the financial crisis. It’s left a hole of $382 billion for the top 200 plans."
 
This morning in an updated version of the July article, Bloomberg repeated a similar magnitude of problem facing the retirees for many of the nationʻs largest firms. While many of these same corporations have used revenues to pay dividends to investors, payments to workersʻ pensions are an unmet and growing obligation. As described in Bloomberg: "Companies are eager to get out of the pension business. Most prefer 401(k) plans, where the employee alone bears the risk of falling short at retirement. More are also offloading their pension plans, paying insurance companies to take them on instead."(see "How America Dug a $375 Billion Pension Hole." Bloomberg, August 4, 2017).

The Bloomberg  report does nothing to relieve the deeper inquiry into troubling practices at CalPERS; it does, however, cast doubt on those who would advance the privatization of pensions as some kind of solution.

The record of private sector managed pension funds is not an inspired one for public sector workers. Indeed, the record of corporate managed pension funds underscores the importance of an open and democratic process in the management of pension funds --  a discussion that should be at the center of the upcoming election for Board members at CalPERS.









Thursday, July 20, 2017

Honoring Labor....at CalPERS

Honoring Labor....at CalPERS


It is not uncommon for legitimate criticisms of a larger policy or organization to morph into a narrative that unfairly characterizes entire groups of workers. Before launching my summary of various problems at CalPERS, I want to distinguish those occupying the upper reaches of management from the many thousands of other workers employed at the pension fund. Why ?

One of my early lessons in the California Legislature emerged with what for me was a novel political agenda: down-sizing government. While criticisms were readily available to attack the performance of any group of public workers, various partisans were always prepared to use such reviews as the basis for dismantling entire programs, departments, or agencies. Part of what the general public so often missed in the rough and tumble of politics is that those seeking to prove the virtues of running government like a business often engaged covert actions to discredit the work of public agencies. A casualty of these attacks often included not-so-subtle attacks on public workers including their inability to perform their jobs as well as their counter-parts in the private sector.

Arnold Schwarzeneggerʻs original campaign promise for "blowing up the boxes" - ridding the public of the waste and fraud in Sacramento represented a classic example of such baseless attacks on public workers. After months of internal reviews, audits, and task force meetings, many citizens recognized that the actor-governorʻs campaign posture, while perhaps a compelling sound-bite, reflected considerable ignorance regarding the millions of public employees who keep things running across the state.

Teaching our children, maintaining transportation, protecting our environment, and taking care of the elderly represent the daily accomplishments of public workers performing the essential tasks of a modern society. More crucially, public workers perform virtually all of these tasks in accordance to an agenda to enrich the lives of citizens, not to line the pockets of the wealthy. Indeed, it is the conflict between private and public interests that so often represents the heart of so many political battles - a dynamic that certainly appears evident in the conflicts at CalPERS.

At the heart of many critical reviews surrounding CalPERS has been the issue of public participation and inquiry into the management of the pension fund. To many, such arguments sound like a boring transcript containing an abundance of procedural minutia. Yet, beneath the mind-numbing back and forth is a deeper conflict, one involving a tussle between public and private interests. Indeed, it is a classic confrontation where the exclusion of public discussion and transparency reflects the anti-democratic character that so often accompanies private-sector decision-making.

As I explore the criticisms that have been leveled against CalPERS in the coming days, I hope readers will appreciate the important difference that so often exists between the responsibilities and duties of those holding positions of authority versus the much larger group of individuals performing the daily task to ensure for the retirement and well-being for millions of Californians.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Bruce H. Jennings - Your CalPERS Candidate !

** Bruce H. Jennings will be speaking in Los Angeles at Occidental College at noon on 
September 21st - check this space for updates **

This post begins a discussion series focusing on the California Public Employee Retirement System. You may already recognize CalPERS as one of the worldʻs largest public pension funds. It is also a place where more than 250 members have nominated me as a candidate to serve on CalPERS Board of Administration - and I owe a considerable debt of gratitude to the hundreds of individuals who have supported me in this endeavor.  During the month of September, the 1.8 million members of CalPERS will cast votes electing two individuals to serve as Member-at-Large to the Board.

One of my objectives as a CalPERS candidate has been inspired by an array of public interest mentors who have guided my work in the Legislature to pursue a common goal: promoting citizensʻ rights to govern the nature and direction of Californiaʻs economy. Promoting citizen participation in managing one of the worldʻs largest economies is also an essential element to address the fossil-fueled crises of our time, a central argument in my book, The War on California. In each of these regards, there is much that needs to change concerning the management of CalPERS.

There are many junctures for Californians to influence the stateʻs economic and political future, including the more than $300 billion dollars managed by CalPERS on behalf of many of Californiaʻs public workers. While up-coming Board election is limited to members of the pension fund, many elected officials figure prominently in the governance of CalPERS (the Governor, Treasurer, Controller and others). While there is much to criticize at CalPERS, there is also a need to recognize the vital importance of public workers and their invaluable contributions over many years.

The politics surrounding CalPERS has been contentious for many years. Starting as a sleepy bureaucracy for receiving and disbursing retirement funds, CalPERS gradually became a more pivotal force with the expanding political might of public employees and their collective financial resources. By the 1960s, CalPERS became a potent tool for influencing corporate boards across the nation and around the world.  CalPERS also became a target for private sector groups eager to exploit economic opportunities for ʻhelpingʻ to manage public employeesʻ portfolios. 

The political role of CalPERS is a topic I will explore in greater depth in the coming weeks along with additional excerpts from my book on related topics. I do not pretend to possess vast knowledge about CalPERS; I am, therefore, especially interested in learning from the readers. Many of us who work politically have often benefited from the collective work of many minds working together, yielding not only important information, but often insights into paths for achieving political change.

As a belated apology, my absence for the past several weeks has been largely unavoidable owing to the launching my book as well as my bid to join the CalPERS Board. Thanks to family, friends and colleagues and the many readers who I hope will join the unfolding discussions.  While my previous writing schedule allowed for postings on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the next series will be a bit more episodic.

In addition to reviewing some of the larger controversies enveloping CalPERS, I will also punctuate my postings with observations on the continuing controversies surrounding cap-and-trade.

Thank you in advance for your attention and commentary.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Establishing Cap-and-Trade: The Climate of Subversion


[Todayʻs post recalls some of the earliest history of AB 32 - The Global Warming Solutions Act - and the conflicts surrounding both its passage as well as its implementation. More than simply a historic footnote, this history would eventually connect to the early policy discussions inside the Trump regime, including Congress, and the direction of ʻcontrolsʻ established on major industrial sources]

On September 27, 2006 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the California Global Warming Solutions Act into law, to impose a graduated cap on emissions of specific greenhouse gases; and, to allow those facilities responsible for such emissions to utilize market mechanisms to achieve the required reductions. Despite the Legislatureʻs extensive, time-honored tradition of crafting laws where words had specific meanings, the Solutions Act left considerable uncertainty as to the degree to which Californiaʻs climate change policy would be governed by regulatory controls that typically spelled-out who was responsible for reducing toxic emissions, in what amounts, the penalties for failures, and enforcement actions to including citizen ability to file legal actions against corporations… all versus market mechanisms.

At a time when climate scientists increasingly insisted that everyone needed to move decisively to quell the fossil-fueled storms of the 21st century, California was embarking on an uncertain path. Amidst celebrations by the stateʻs actor-governor, Hollywood stars and politicians proclaiming Californiaʻs new law, many public interest advocates wondered how many of the same corporations that had for so long been responsible for the largest market failure in history, were now going to be a part of a market “solution” to global climate change? Community activists in Los Angeles described the recent history of emissions trading as a disaster where public health was sacrificed amidst supposed benefits, far outside their neighborhoods. In places such as Wilmington, California, with its prominent oil refinery, activists wondered about the consequences for their community when Shell began trading emissions credits. In addition to concerns about greenhouse gases, They asked, how could emissions trading curb the use of other pollutants affecting the health of nearby communities?

Assessing the ‘trading’ provision of cap-and-trade in the Solutions Act struck many as theater of the absurd. Regulators, business owners, community activists, environmental lawyers, and private sector financial analysts were openly skeptical about the state’s entry into the world of emissions trading. Even though traditional command-and-control regulatory laws had many flaws, as businesses often complained about regulatory paperwork, many noted that AB 32 now required them to be savvy traders in a new commodity market. 

The relationship between the Solutions Act and other California law was by no means a trivial matter. The Golden State had already enacted a multiplicity of laws and regulations severely restricting the release of toxic chemicals into the air, and a larger array of laws placed California on a path toward eliminating fossil fuels as a source of energy in the 21st century. To all outward appearances the authors of the Solutions Act, breezed through the requisite policy committee. Behind the scenes, however, were serious misgivings about an ill-conceived approach whereby many of the same corporations responsible for emitting hazardous substances into the air should then benefit by credits for reducing emissions elsewhere. Over the previous two decades many activists had played a central role in advancing a series of laws placing California, not simply at the forefront of clean air legislation, but more important, placing significant restrictions on the use of fossil fuels in the state energy supply. Were these hard-earned gains to be undone?

As later reported by an high-ranking administrator in one of Cal EPAʻs agencies, Governor Schwarzeneggerʻs political leanings were clear before AB 32 was even signed into law:

“Governor Schwarzenegger and his staff were intent on delaying substantive work on climate mitigation [in order to protect] California industry - major Republican party donors - from any competitive disadvantage. Schwarzenegger wanted it both ways: to be a climate hero and to avoid alienating the business community. Likewise, the Administration made strenuous efforts to steer the draft legislation away from regulation and toward market trading. That put Schwarzenegger in direct conflict with Democratic leaders who insisted on ʻearly action measuresʻ and who strongly preferred direct emission controls. The latter is precisely why the Air Board was given the lead implementation role: it was world renown for adopting ambitious, technology forcing rules. The Administrationʻs counter proposal for a squishy, non-accountable, multi-agency implementation body was soundly rebuffed. The conflict boiled over once the bill was enacted.”

The early ʻtraitsʻ of Californiaʻs Global Warming Solutions Act would reverberate for years to come.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Market Mechanisms for Market Failures: Part I

[In todayʻs posting, we return again to the historic roots of Californiaʻs pollution trading scheme (aka AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act) and the many hard-won regulatory laws that preceded it. This history becomes important as a lens for understanding the contemporary politics of fossil-fuel induced crises, including the current push for deregulation by the Trump regime.]

The rising alarm surrounding air pollution during the 1960s lead to the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The essential mechanism of the Act was to establish limits on the release of harmful air pollutants, which principally affected auto manufacturers, refineries, and heavy industries. The regulatory requirements of the Clean Air Act were largely aimed at technological changes, including filters to remove recognized pollutants and meet air quality standards. “By 1991, however, the Environmental Protection Agency had succumbed to the pressure of lobbyists demanding lax enforcement of the Actʻs rules or regulations associated with expensive emissions equipment. EPA targeted Southern California to test a plan that would potentially increase healthy air while reducing emissions by offsetting the cost of pollution controls ….The pilot project, called Regional Clean Air Incentives Market (RECLAIM) established a system for trading ʻpollution creditsʻ among polluters.”

While the authors of AB 32 pointed to an East Coast emissions trading program to limit CO2 emissions (RGGI) as an illustration of how cap-and-trade might operate, RECLAIM was a much closer approximation to the broad contours of the Solution Act. It is likely that the sponsors of AB 32 did not want to point to RECLAIM for one simple reason: it was “widely regarded as a failure due to the issuance of too many emission credits, resulting in weak prices.” Initiated as one of the earliest programs for emissions trading, RECLAIM faced challenges from the start. “Companies had an incentive to achieve escape routes (e.g., variances granted by local air districts) from caps placed on emissions.”

From its inception,  the Los Angeles Incentives Market (RECLAIM) confronted intensive scrutiny from community-based organizations. Communities were already suspect of the basic premise that pollution trading from oil refineries, rail traffic, and other industrial facilities would not impose an even greater threat to their well-being. Various community groups viewed the entire premise of providing regulatory flexibility to the private sector with a blunt skepticism, particularly regarding the benefits of a pollution-trading scheme designed by those working from office towers in New York, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco. The suggestion that they should join with national environmental groups who had designed AB 32 yielded open hostility among a large number of community-based groups in Los Angeles, “This wouldn’t be the first time that they threw us under the bus!”

Another controversy enveloping the proposed trading scheme related to  
what many public health officials referred to as ʻold scienceʻ versus ʻnew science.ʻ Early trading schemes such as RECLAIM emerged during an era when trading was founded on an already dated characterization of ʻpollutantsʻ as chemical hazards posing principally short-term harms. By the beginning of the 21st century, newly emerging scientific findings included a much broader array of harms, reflected in an expanded set of statutory terms (e.g., neurotoxins, microparticulates, endocrine disruption). Because the harms recognized latent effects impacting multiple generations, sometimes at exceedingly small exposures or other times based only the timing of exposures (i.e., first trimester for reproductive effects) legislative discussions moved from how to manage chemical exposures to a more pointed effort simply to eliminate the commercial production or release of substances posing inherent hazards.

Whereas various federal laws were firmly planted in an older model allowing private sector firms to release uncharacterized chemicals into the environment, public health officials and others conversant with these new scientific findings advanced precautionary approaches in law. By the early 2000s precautionary legislation became especially popular in California, with many calling for the rapid phase-out of various products containing bio-accumulative, biologically disruptive, and other such substances (e.g., mercury, lead, PBDEs). The operating premise for a variety of these laws was to prohibit the production, use and sale of substances posing inherent hazards. Lacking this preventative premise, the framing of the Global Warming Solutions Act, therefore, was instantly contentious.

A fundamental question confronting the Legislature turned on how to construct AB 32 within the framework of existing laws, and pointed to very divergent paths. Inside the Legislature, the question pivoted on whether to incrementally manage the release in a calculus of what was most efficient for business. The new research emerging was predicated on the urgency to eliminate these substances posing known and dramatic threats to human life and civilization extending for centuries into the future.

In the years following the enactment of Californiaʻs Global Warming Solutions Act, the question of whether the State should utilize market mechanisms to address a crisis precipitated by what many economists labeled ʻthe greatest market failureʻ would become a pivotal question. In 2017, the question would become dramatically more significant in the context of President Trumpʻs swiftly adopted agenda to dismantle strict regulatory controls, particularly with respect to any restrictions over fossil fuels.

And for readers who are forgiven for not following the minutia of market mechanisms, one additional event in 2017 yielded one more over-looked commentary on the failure of market mechanisms: the decision by the South Coast Air Quality Management Districtʻs Board to terminate the decades-old regional pollution-trading program: RECLAIM. Sparing readers the interesting details, it is enough to note that one of the Board members, the Honorable Sheila Kuehl, noted that Los Angeles was bringing an end to being gamed by fossil fuel interests; LA would revert to the reliable and certain results achieved by strict regulatory controls over emissions by petroleum refineries and other large emission sources.

I promise to provide a less wonky posting next time!

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Tyranny Larger than Trump

If you have had the opportunity to read even one of the recent editorials by the LA Times, you have likely found yourself re-enchanted with their thoughtful critique of Donald Trump. And if you are like many others around this state, you are even more thrilled with their tone. Without mincing words, the Times calls our newly elected President narcissistic, impulsive, untruthful, and both ignorant about political power and how to wield it effectively.

The Los Angeles Timesʻ attack is unrelenting, reflecting what the editorial writers sense is a surge of popular outrage and opposition by a vast number of Californians. Refreshingly, the Times is unequivocal not simply as a venting of frustrations, but noting that it is time to challenge the new President before things get even worse. The Editorial Board argues that rather than awaiting more 'alternative facts' and the further erosion of democratic institutions, their responsibility is to "lay out our concerns." These are expansive, ranging from the draconian use of federal police forces to deport and worsened livelihoods for millions of our fellow Californians, to the dismantling of health care policies, and an array of policies opposed to many of our most celebrated laws.

As noted by the Timesʻ editors, many Californians feel "uniquely threatened" and harbor a widespread sense of dread for being complicit in creating a place that is now targeted by the Trump regime, his partisans in Congress, and powerful private sector allies. But this is the juncture at which the marvelous editorial series gives too little attention to a much deeper and longer conflict. It may be fair to call Trump a tyrant, but the sources of his tyranny are more than merely his weird persona.

In recent decades many of the same themes of racist, xenophobic, elitist, sexist, and similarly egregious traits have been displayed by other presidents. Even if we can all readily agree that Donald Trump personifies the worst of these qualities, the threats posed by the current regime are much broader. Trump does bring new meaning to the rise of an authoritarian, if not fascistic, state. It is no small matter that his use of power in such a personal way threatens democratic practice in a fashion perhaps unprecedented in our nationʻs history.

I find it difficult to argue with any of the Timesʻ courageous editorials....save one, not-so-minor point: the origins of problems we confront are much larger than the man now occupying the Oval Office. The case can be made most persuasively by examining what is arguably one of the greatest existential threats to humankind: the distinct prospect that civilization and global ecology will severely damaged by the end of this century. Yet, the approaching cataclysm has a complex history predating 2016 and the current President. Which is not to say that Donald Trump will not make things spectacularly worse. But a more careful scrutiny of our predicament points out that focusing exclusively on Trumpʻs failures as a leader is largely a distraction.

Trumpʻs distractions move our collective scrutiny away from an enduring coalition of private interests, including some of the nationʻs wealthiest families and largest corporations. For one over-arching problem - fossil-fueled damages - the activities of the oil industry, its lobbyists and corporate allies have been documented for pursuing policies that have undermined clean alternative fuels while discounting the threats to surrounding communities, workers, and the environment. As if these negative features were not enough, the record of destruction extends to the systematic erosion of democratic institutions and practices as evinced by their out-sized role in the political process.

As reflected in the stories of public interest advocates contained in The War on California, the abhorrent and disastrous policies personified by President Trump have many linkages to earlier regimes and powerful political forces. We may discover, too late, that ʻsolvingʻ for the Donald does too little to address the other threats to democracy, society, and the environment. California, in this regard, holds an especially vital, some might say pivotal, role in preparing a political campaign aimed not simply at the small man seeking a balcony, but the many sympathetic officials who have been hard at work for many decades to defeat the works of public interest activists across the nation. 

The record of these conflicts are recorded in dozens of legislative measures stretching across decades. While covering a range of topics, there is one especially intriguing common theme bridging many of these struggles: the battle between private and public interests to control both politics and the economy in the Golden State. These are themes I will continue to explore in the coming weeks.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Politics of Trading

[Todayʻs post follows from the last posted conversation with my brother, an expert on financial matters and our discussion in 2006 regarding a legislative proposal that would become Californiaʻs export model for addressing climate change: cap-and-trade]

"Casey, I've got a question." It was another of what were becoming more frequent calls to sound-out a private sector perspective on my political crisis du jour.  ”Go ahead” Casey answered, “What's the latest from the temple of doom?"  

I explained the outlines of the global warming bill, ending with a question about market mechanisms: "What do you make of the use of such an approach, especially emissions trading, since this seems to be where the bill is headed?"

"Bruce, Bruce, Bruce.....what's the matter?  Why haven't you given yourself over to the market?  It is a wonderful faith-based system and it makes it easier for you to sleep at night." Casey then walked through how various of his financial wizardry conducted on behalf of major corporations typically relied on a contract to specify the obligations and responsibilities for both parties.  

"So let me get this straight; you're saying this is a perfectly acceptable way to construct a program for reducing greenhouse gases, yet...?" Before I completed the question Casey interrupted, "No, I said that in corporate-land I have helped to define the financial terms for contracts. But in many instances the contract has followed a prime directive: if things turn sour, make certain that the other party is screwed to the wall. One of the wonderful parts of financial engineering is that virtually no one understands how any of this works. So my question to you is a simple one: who in the Legislature understands trading?  Or better yet, ask the legislators and their supporters if they can explain it to you in more than a couple of sound bites." Casey, not quite done, was saving the best for last.

"...Oh, and there is the second part of working with contracts. For all of the contracts that I have been party to, we would typically write up something about 1,000 pages long, just to make certain that we have a very thorough understanding of where this agreement will take us and, most especially, a very clear statement about when the contract has not been fulfilled, how it will be enforced and, most especially, what we get when the contract doesn't have the outcome that we have agreed on.”  

“...So, you’ve got to ask some additional questions” continued Casey. ”First, what does trading mean in this bill?  Second, what happens when greenhouse gases aren't reduced over some period of time?  And third, how extensive is the contract language?” "Well,” I responded, “the bill does not have any specific contract language as such. It is simply a vague statement regarding the use of market mechanisms to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gases."

"Well, whoopee! is all I can say," Casey laughed. "I know which side of that deal I want to be on....and it certainly isn't backing the people of California! ...By the way, let me know when this bill is going to the Governor so I can start shorting the state. Remember when Enronʻs traders giggled as California's bureaucrats came to the floor to make energy contract purchases?  This will be even better!"

I ended the phone conversation wondering if some of the materials I had used years earlier with groups of students at UC Berkeley might have prompted a better basis for considering the value of emissions trading among legislators and staff. A particularly thoughtful author, Tom Athanasiou, prominent in my syllabus, argued that solving global warming involved more than simply a re-jiggering of technologies to capture fugitive gases. Instead, the task required more fundamental changes.

“If greenhouse theory is correct, and the preponderance of evidence indicates that it is correct, humanity must drastically reduce its use not only of methane and CFCs (greenhouse gases), but of coal and oil as well, even though such a reduction means that the entire planetary economy must be re-structured -- to a degree that implies a fundamental break with the energy economy that has underlain capitalism from its earliest days. This is not a matter of a few technical fixes, of isolated reforms to an economy that can remain essentially unaltered.”

Sitting at my desk inside the capitol, I wondered if the architects of cap-and-trade really thought that cap-and-trade was an answer to the fossil-fueled threats of the 21st century. Or was this merely subterfuge; a political device for obscuring the urgent necessity to restructure one of the worldʻs major economies?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Californiaʻs Pollution Trading Scheme: Chapt 1

[to discover the exciting outcome of this weekʻs earlier post, you will have to await the publication of The War on California in the next few weeks; in the meantime, todayʻs post introduces the story about what will become the stateʻs most infamous ʻSolutionʻ to fossil-fueled climate crises.]

“Whatʻs that?” I queried of my fellow all-female consultants as we emerged from yet another meeting, as a van adjacent to the capitol’s south entrance deposited a bulky item on the well-manicured grounds.

“Itʻs the governorʻs podium,” my colleague responded. “See the govʻs seal on the front?”
“Yes, I see the podium, but whatʻs he carrying in his other hand?”  

Approaching the curb, we looked more closely. “Itʻs his platform!” She responded to my puzzled expression. “You know, the wooden box he stands on to appear larger than life when towering behind the podium.”

“You have got to be kidding me!”

“Come on Bruce, itʻs a Hollywood thing. For Schwarzenegger, this is all political theater.” As we entered the marbled halls, we were laughing. “Oh itʻs theater alright, theater of the absurd.”  

Within days my attention turned to the first in a series of broadly outlined discussions about what might appear in the proposal being finalized for hearing before my committee. The bill, eventually celebrated as one of California’s premiere environmental laws -- the Global Warming Solutions Act, popularly known as AB 32 advanced a program supporters referred to as “cap-and-trade;” something that its detractors would later refer to with as Californiaʻs pollution trading scheme. The basic architecture required regulatory agencies, including the California Air Resources Board to set limits on the largest emitters of greenhouse gases combined with a vaguely stated trading program.

This bill would contain an essential flexibility for these large emitters that made AB 32 very different from Californiaʻs classic regulatory approach. Beginning with a benchmark of total greenhouse gas emissions, a declining cap for these emissions would be imposed on the largest emission sources - designed to decrease total emissions to an earlier baseline - in this case, the earlier and lower 1990 measurement of total statewide emissions. Large emission sources, facilities such as refineries or energy plants owned by very large corporations, would be allowed to trade emission credits in an auction with other facilities not utilizing all their own credits. The concept held that as the cap on emissions decreased over time, credits would become more expensive, driving up the price of greenhouse gas pollutants. Companies would have various avenues to figure out how to deal with pollution, but eventually all emitters would be compelled to utilize less costly and less polluting alternatives.

From the start I found the billʻs title misleading, given that an array of California laws already addressed various facets of global warming. With the availability of plentiful regulatory mechanisms, why was these members of the Assembly so enchanted with trading mechanisms as a means for addressing the climate crisis? I would slowly awaken as to why the billʻs emphasis on a trading mechanism continually nagged at me. soon learn about a central feature that made this approach so distinctive.
During an early meeting with supporters, tentative language circulated for a bill being drafted by the Legislatureʻs attorneys that appeared to be suspiciously like the work of the larger environmental groups in Washington, D.C. (and quite unlike the product of Californiaʻs environmental advocates). One telltale characteristic was that language crafted by many of Californiaʻs environmental attorneys typically reflected an obsession with fine details, whereas proposals from inside the Beltway as well in Congress often proceeded with broad provisions. For many of us inside Californiaʻs capitol, the Congressional model of drafting overly broad provisions in law only invited challenges and delays by powerful opposing interests.   

Before launching legislation in D.C., one could first road test it in a state legislature. The main advocates in D.C. were laying the groundwork in California for a piece to follow as the national model, based on what they hoped would be the California law. A centerpiece of the bill used "market mechanisms" to define how global warming would be addressed, with the use of a trading scheme. Although trading had been used at that time in a program in Southern California, AB 32 advocates argued that theirs was a distinctive architecture.

At this point, as typical when working in the arena of concepts without benefit of actual language or empirical data, I resorted to a sophisticated technology honed by staff over many years. I picked up the phone to survey my ever-expanding universe of informal advisors stretching from journalists and physicians to regulatory scientists and activists in Los Angeles to gain from their deep knowledge. I was especially interested in the perspective of one who, over many years, was among the elite wizards responsible for pumping up the quarterly statements of major global firms through use of financial instruments. The source, of course, was my brother.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Slippery Slopes and the War on California


If you missed yesterdayʻs editorial in the Los Angeles Times, you will learn that the War on California also contains a corresponding theme: Californiaʻs War on Trump.  The editorial is striking not simply because it vigorously takes the newly elected President to task in a devastating personal attack, but also because it is a call to arms. While the Times stops short of calling on citizens to engage in mass mobilization and protest, perhaps only because we are still in the first 100 days of his regime. For the tens of millions of Californians assaulted by Trumpians, the Times brings the welcome relief of a counter-attack on this ʻdishonest presidentʻ.

The weakness with the Timesʻ editorial, however, is its emphasis on a single individual in the White House. The paperʻs essay acknowledges that had Cruz or Rubio prevailed over Trump, we might be facing largely similar problems with regard to the treatment of women, immigrants, workers, and the poor. The difference between Trump and other potential leaders, according to the Times, is one of degree. Donald Trump, the argument goes, is dangerously crazy, whereas his colleagues are merely crazy. The point may be well taken with respect to the next war and the potential for nuclear disasters; but what about other global conflicts, including fossil-fueled crises threatening the planetʻs survival?
Are the actions of those who might replace Trump an acceptable alternative?

In the world of environmental protection, news stories often offer clear divisions: those working to protect and save fragile habitat and vanishing critters and those bent on their destruction. Such narratives have an immediate attractiveness, especially in the era of Trump & Co. One problem with such descriptions, however, appears in the arena of over-lapping circles - areas where the two approaches overlap. This grey colored section between the black and white of opposed interests is sometimes defined as the ʻwin-winʻ territory, a place where compromises can be reached and policies advanced benefiting otherwise opposed interests. It is also a terrain known for slippery slopes; a place where the public awaken one day, saying "How in the world did we arrive at this disastrous spot!"

At a moment in history when the fate of the planet and human civilization seems precariously balanced on the edge of global cataclysms, the political terrain has grown exceedingly more slippery. At first glance the choice between Californiaʻs climate policies or those of an unstable fellow in the White House seem obvious. There are, however, grey areas between the two that are ripe for exploiting what will surely be presented as ʻwin-win solutionsʻ - but which others will just as surely awaken one day, saying ʻHow did we find ourselves hurdling toward the abyss?ʻ To appreciate the potential dangers, we might begin with some recent political history. And what better place to start than Californiaʻs own actor/leader and the Golden Stateʻs ʻSolutionʻ to global warming.
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"Today, California will be a leader in the fight against global warming... I say the debate is over. We know the science, we see the threat and we know the time for action is now." The statement, issued by one of Californiaʻs governors, suggested a bold plan to address a steadily advancing crisis - climate change.

Serving as a primary leader for the stateʻs Republicans, this popular governor immediately placed himself at odds with President George Bush, who steadfastly avoided the issue, including his refusal to join 150-plus nations from around the globe in the most recent effort to devise an international accord -- the Kyoto Protocols. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was delivering his plan for addressing global warming to open a United Nations World Environment Day Conference in San Francisco.

In making his announcement, Schwarzenegger issued an executive order directing the secretary of California's Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the state's emissions of greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2010; 1990 levels by 2020; and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, as the outline of a long-term program. Despite a mountain of scientific studies documenting a disrupted climate, the main directive from President Bush sought to undermine Californiaʻs recently enacted law to lessen engine emissions. The question of whether such a program would require too little escaped notice because it would be progress, seemingly, to launch any plan. However, in a setting where words and details mattered, the Governorʻs plan was about to hit a speed bump.
Within weeks of Governor Schwarzenegger’s announcement launching a project to address global warming, an attempt was made to introduce a legislative proposal mirroring the broad strokes of the Governorʻs executive order. A member of the Assembly came to the Senate with a reputed agreement that the Governor would sign global warming legislation into law. The catch, typical to agreements reached late in the session, necessitated the Legislature to agree to a kind of blank check, largely circumventing reviews by policy committees...and the public. Last minute agreements of this sort often employed a technique known as ʻgut and amend,ʻ taking legislation introduced earlier in the legislative session on one topic, later inserting entirely new language.

Few involved, if anyone, had the opportunity to analyze and reflect on the consequences of a proposed ‘gut’ or change. In certain instances, such as after a natural disaster, gut and amend served a valuable purpose: to act with the utmost urgency in the event of a crisis. Unfortunately, gut and amends too often were invented crises employed by powerful lobbyists as a device for circumventing more intensive public scrutiny. Whereas Congress and even many states passed measures without the benefit of even allowing sufficient time for representatives to read measures requiring their vote, Californiaʻs Legislature exercised a very strong tradition based on an extensive review by professional staff as well as allowing for public review and comment.

Behind the Governorʻs directive to urgently address global warming lurked a more devilish question: who was responsible for setting the earth on fire in the first place? On this point, the Governor seemed to suggest that we all shared a responsibility for fixing the problem. The tension for many veterans of the Legislature involved their belief that a key ingredient in crafting ʻgoodʻ law required everyone -- especially the general public -- time to digest what a legal proposal meant. Leaving vital details solely in the hands any governor was an approach many professional staff referred to by a simple and pejorative shorthand: faith-based governing.

Nearing the close of the 2005 legislative session, I was asked to join a meeting of the chair of my committee along with two other legislators to discuss a possible gut-and-amend. In the absence of any written draft, the proposal was presented as a broadly conceptual one: allowing a bill broadly encapsulating Governor Schwarzeneggerʻs executive order on global warming to advance through the Senateʻs Environmental Quality Committee. The assembly member was emphatic in her presentation; here was a golden and urgent opportunity for the Legislature to act, we should not pass up this matter of crucial importance to the public. Almost as an afterthought, the anxious legislator mentioned a minor caveat: since the specific language was still being finalized by the Governorʻs people, the Committee would only be able to vote on the broad generalities of the bill. 

In the closed-door meeting with the three legislators, the chair then turned to me, asking for my perspective on the proposed hearing for what was the Governorʻs bill on climate change....

please return on Wednesday to read the next installment.......and thank you!

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Trump Regime and the War on California

It was heartening for millions of Californians to hear Gov. Jerry Brown warn President Trump that he had just made a “colossal mistake” in gutting the federal government’s effort to combat climate change. On Tuesday of this week, the Los Angeles Times provided readers with the fuller story: “It defies science itself,” Brown said in a call to The Times shortly after Trump signed an executive order that aims to bring an abrupt halt to the United States’ leadership on global warming. Brown vowed, predicting Trump’s actions will mobilize environmentalists in a way President Obama never could. “I have met with many heads of state, ambassadors. This is a growing movement. President Trump’s outrageous move will galvanize the contrary force. Things have been a bit tepid [in climate activism]. But this conflict, this sharpening of the contradiction, will energize those who believe climate change is an existential threat.”
At this juncture I paused and re-read the passage once more about climate activists, "Things have been a bit tepid?" Perhaps Governor Brown was glossing over the not-so-small issue that U.S. climate policy have presented little to celebrate. For numerous of Californiaʻs activists and advocates, both U.S. climate policies and the Paris accords (COP 21) have been largely underwhelming. Letʻs review where U.S. policy stood in 2016. 

In his final state of the Union, President Obama noted that the country was already pursuing a more constructive project, based on the largest federal support in the nationʻs history: to combine wind and solar power with a transition away from ʻdirty energy.ʻ While he was able to pinpoint specific clean energy projects already deployed across the nation, dismantling of dirty energy was more aspirational than real. “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.” But when were such costs imposed on energy companies and where did these appear in federal law or policy?
It may be that the President Obama considered his partisan opponents the least of his problems. Obama hinted that the nub of difficulty was located among corporate lobbyists who held sway in both houses of Congress; “None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve — that’s the kind of future our kids and grand kids deserve.” If the President expected Congress to embrace a program based on the needs of grand kids over immediate profits, we were indeed facing a world of trouble. For a public that had placed much trust in a presidential candidate promising “hope,” many citizens re-kindled a much older political adage: hope is not a strategy.
To be sure, the Republican Congress represents a major obstacle to achieving anything resembling evidence-based policies. Only weeks prior to Obamaʻs speech before Congress, emphasizing the urgency of climate change measures, the House voted to block provisions of the Clean Power Plan set to curb greenhouse gas emissions, via two actions; the first would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing rules aimed at cutting emissions from new power plants; the second would prevent the agency from enforcing rules targeted at existing power plants. The Congressional action included an action blocking the Presidentʻs Green Climate Fund, a $3 billion commitment to assist developing countries with adopting green energy systems.  
The actions of the 2016 Republican Congress to defeat even the most modest steps to address a deteriorating climate reflected more than a partisan difference of opinion. It was, rather, the product of yet another concerted effort led by a host of fossil fuel companies, to forge a business-friendly political climate. What citizens and their leader had expressed, time and time again as “hope,” remained far from reality. Moreover, various of Obama’s actions were fraught with contradictions in achieving these ends - particularly with respect to trade negotiations and provisions for undermining the strict regulatory programs that had made California a leader in environmental policies. As one observer noted, “The conservative revolution transformed our countries into authoritarian pro-business states, which are not just undemocratic but inherently anti-democratic. The last thing these people want is to give democratic power to a state that they cannot control, manipulate, make irrelevant or buy.” By the 21st century, the promotion of states dominated by corporations and their markets moved well beyond the realm of democratic institutions and toward an ascendant market state.
Returning to this past week, we find Californiaʻs Governor rallying citizens to counter the proposals of a President and Congress enthralled with the world of unleashed corporate power. “I see Washington declining in influence, but the momentum being maintained by California and other states aligned with China and those who are willing to do something,” said Brown, who will be traveling to China soon for meetings on climate. “There is a growing activism on the part of millions of people who will not stand by and let Donald Trump effectively tear up the Paris agreement and destroy America’s climate leadership and jeopardize the health and well-being of so many people.” But there is a slippery slope in this message; the principal policy linkage between California, China and the Paris agreement (COP 21) is what has been touted as the Golden Stateʻs celebrated solution to the climate crisis: emissions trading (aka cap-and-trade or AB 32). While California possesses a large portfolio of climate change related laws, emission trading scheme has served in recent years as its export model. And what do we make of this solution, especially in the context of the Trump regime and his Congressional enablers?
Let me take you back to December 2015 and the conference hall in Paris where Governor Brown was in the midst of discussing Californiaʻs virtuous leadership in the fight against climate change. On this same evening at the same conference, a group of California activists raised their voices challenging Governor Brownʻs ʻsolutionʻ to a worsening climate. Among those rising in protest was a young organizer from Los Angeles, Rossmery Zayas, who attending on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, stated: "Weʻre from California and let us tell you the truth about whatʻs happening in our communities." The essence of the message delivered by various activists including Rossmery was that Californiaʻs so-called solution represented a failure, particularly from the perspective of those living in the midst of refineries, cement plants, and other large emission sources. What was going on? Why had activists from the Golden State traveled all of the way to Paris to publicly challenge Governor Brown?
The problem confronting Governor Brown is very similar to that which faced President Obama: how to navigate the fossil-fueled conflicts orchestrated by corporate interests? The ʻsolutionʻ to this tension written into law more than a decade ago in California was to provide fossil fuel interests a flexibility to circumvent more restrictive regulatory laws. It is precisely this regulatory flexibility that protestors voiced opposition to in Paris and others would characterize as the essential failure of a vaguely concluded COP 21. The path of regulatory flexibility forged by moderate Democrats in California now poses a threat undermining precisely the decisive measures urgently necessary to address what Governor Brown and many Californians recognize as the massively worsening destruction brought about by fossil fuel interests.

Please visit again on Monday as the story unfolds.