Jerry Brown will lead trade mission to Mexico

Gov. Jerry Brown will lead a trade and investment mission to Mexico – California’s largest export market – in the last week of July, he announced Tuesday.

California’s neighbor has a role to play in the Golden State’s push to address its energy and environmental needs, Brown had said in his State of the State address in January.

“Reducing our oil consumption, two-thirds of which is imported by ships and tank cars, will take time, breakthrough technologies and steadfast commitment. It will also require that the countries which burn the most fossil fuel join with us,” he said at the time. “We’ve started building those partnerships with other states and countries like China. We will go to Mexico next. California can’t do this alone.”

A delegation of California government, business, economic development, investment and policy leaders will join Brown on this mission, which is being organized by the California Chamber of Commerce. The focus will be on boosting direct investment in the state, expanding bilateral economic and environmental cooperation, and connecting California businesses with new opportunities and partnerships.

Brown met last month with Mexican consuls general from cities across California.

The governor one year ago led a similar mission to China, during which he met with government leaders including China Premier Li Keqiang, opened the California-China Office of Trade and Investment in Shanghai and signed the first economic and environmental agreements ever between a subnational entity and Chinese Ministries. Brown later last year met with China’s President Xi Jinping in California to sign a climate-change pact; he also has signed pacts in the past year with leaders from Canada, Israel and Peru to combat climate change, strengthen economic ties and cooperate on research.


Neel Kashkari: Now isn’t the time to cut taxes

GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari’s top priority isn’t cutting taxes, he told the San Jose State University College Republicans on Thursday night.

They’re too high, he agreed, but he called for first getting the state’s money’s worth from the taxes it does collect to foster new jobs and better education. Once the economy is strong again, he said, it’ll be time to reform the tax code to lower the overall taxation level.

“To be candid with you, I don’t think we start there; I think we start by putting people back to work,” he told about 20 students who’d gathered to hear him speak.

Kashkari & SJSU College Republicans, photo by Josh Richman

Because Kashkari’s speech occurred on our print deadline and due to limited space in the paper, here are a few other tidbits that didn’t make it into today’s story:

He’s “not comfortable with legalizing marijuana. … I’ve never smoked pot in my life,” he said. “But I also don’t think it makes sense to lock people up, to ruin their lives, to waste millions of dollars for a small amount of drugs,” he added, noting there must be a better approach than the “war on drugs” that has disproportionately hurt minorities.

Kashkari again called for opening the Monterey Shale to fracking for shale oil, saying it’ll be a key part of the job boom California desperately needs. The nation’s highest rents aren’t in San Francisco or New York, he noted, but actually in a small North Dakota town at the epicenter of that state’s fracking boom.

A true climate-change response must be national or international in order to have any effect, he said, and a robust state economy will bring more tax revenues that can be spent in part on basic research into clean energy sources and other climate-change solutions.

“I love our natural beauty, we have to protect the environment, but I believe we need to find the right balance,” he said.

Kashkari & Barr, photo by Josh RichmanKashkari got into a back-and-forth with Cheryl Barr, 22, an industrial-design student who disagreed with his environmental positions.

Barr after the meeting said Kashkari generally “seems like a decent guy,” and she likes that he has an engineering background – he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and worked briefly as an aerospace engineer, before earning his M.B.A. and entering the financial sector. But his campaign mantra of “‘jobs and education’ is kind of vague,” she said, and she believes his support of fracking is misguided.

“There actually is room to create jobs that can help the environment at the same time,” she said.


Lawmakers urge Jerry Brown to halt all fracking

Nine state lawmakers, including a few from the Bay Area, have signed a letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to obtain oil and gas, the process commonly called “fracking.”

Marc Levine“The risks are simply too great to allow fracking to continue,” Assemblyman Marc Levine, who authored the letter, told reporters on a conference call this morning.

The technique demonstrably hurts air and water quality, might influence seismic activity, and furthers a dependence on fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, said Levine, D-San Rafael, and so it must be suspended “until we have all the data to address the immediate and long-term dangers.”

Signing Levine’s letter were Assemblymembers Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara; Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica; Adrin Nazarian, D-Van Nuys; Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, as well as state Senators Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa; Lois Wolk, D-Vacaville; and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley.

Levine, who announced the letter in November, teamed up with CREDO, an activist group which had thousands of members sign petitions and make phone calls urging their lawmakers to sign the letter. Levine and CREDO delivered the letter and held their news conference during this final week of a public comment period on Brown’s proposed fracking regulations, which they say would allow a massive expansion of fracking in California.

CREDO campaign manager Zack Malitz called fracking “one of the greatest environmental struggles to face Califonians in a generation,” and said Brown has proposed “dangerously weak regulations that would only encourage more fracking” despite “massive public opposition.”

“His legacy as an environmental leader is on the line,” Malitz said. “Californians will hold him responsible for putting oil-industry profits ahead of our health and the climate.”

Several bills proposing a moratorium on fracking failed to get enough votes to advance in the Legislature last year. The Legislature did pass SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabassas, which Brown signed into law in September; that bill requires oil companies to go through a permit process, disclose chemical uses, do groundwater tests and send notices to neighboring landowners about their intent to drill.

Brown generally has pursued energy policy that supports increased oil production while expanding California’s goal of producing at least a third of its electricity from renewable sources (such as wind or solar energy) by 2020.

UPDATE @ 12:32 P.M.: This just in from Evan Westrup, Brown’s spokesman: “After extensive debate, the Legislature – including the authors of this letter – voted to enact SB 4, which became effective just days ago. Pursuant to this bill, the regulatory process has begun and we encourage these legislators and other interested citizens to actively participate.”


Boxer spars with nuclear agency on oversight

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer is sparring with the Nuclear Regulatory Committee over congressional access to the agency’s information.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., wrote a letter to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane on Tuesday, urging her to withdraw its new policy that the senator says will inhibit congressional oversight.

“As an ‘independent agency,’ the NRC is independent from the Executive Branch – not from congressional oversight,” Boxer wrote. “It is the NRC’s responsibility to keep Congress apprised of its activities, as well as to follow the law and use its authorities responsibly and in the public’s interest.”

Yet the NRC “unilaterally devised a drastic change of policy behind closed doors” without notifying her committee, and implemented it without consulting Congress or the public, Boxer wrote.

“This policy is a radical departure from previous NRC document policies and creates significant hurdles and delays that can be used to withhold information entirely from the chairs and ranking members of oversight committees,” Boxer wrote. “It also allows the NRC to broadly deny information to individual members of Congress, even when the information is related to matters affecting their home states.”

The NRC’s claims that the new policy is justified by its need to protect against public release of sensitive materials isn’t supported by case law or by Justice Department guidelines, the senator wrote.

“I call on the NRC to cease its efforts to circumvent Congress’ oversight authority and create a policy that is a model of transparency and respects Congress’ responsibility to oversee the NRC,” Boxer wrote.


Fracking activists to protest Jerry Brown in SF

Anti-fracking activists intend to protest as Gov. Jerry Brown visits the Bay Area this afternoon to sign a regional agreement to align government policy, combat climate change and promote clean energy.

Brown is scheduled to be at Cisco-Meraki’s San Francisco headquarters at 4 p.m. to sign the pact with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and British Columbia environmental officials.

But the Californians Against Fracking coalition – which includes members of more than 150 groups including MoveOn.org Civic Action, CREDO, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment, and Environment California – say Brown’s support of fracking could undermine any progress the agreement would make.

Brown last month signed into law SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, which creates the state’s first rules for hydraulic fracturing or acidation to extract oil and natural gas. Some environmentalists, including this coalition, argue that only a moratorium on these techniques will keep California safe from environmental harms and further the state’s clean-energy goals.

The activists who’ll protest Brown’s appearance today say using fracking, acidization, and other unconventional extraction techniques to access 15 billion barrels of crude oil beneath California would produce nearly as much global warming pollution as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and set back the state’s progress on combating climate change.


Oil-extraction tax measure dies, but will return

A student-led campaign to put an oil-extraction tax ballot measure before California voters has failed – and is starting all over again with renewed vigor.

Monday was the signature-gathering deadline for the “California Modernization and Economic Development Act,” a measure conceived at UC-Berkeley that would’ve imposed a 9.5 percent tax on oil and natural gas extracted in the state. Petition circulation began April 25, but the proponents couldn’t hit their 504,760-signature mark.

But Californians for Responsible Economic Development, the student-led group that drafted the initiative, plans to resubmit a revised measure.

California oil wells“This summer has been busy for the CMED team,” said Aaron Thule, the campaign’s grassroots coordinator. “After a lot of hard work, we have built a signature gathering coalition for fall and winter that will be ready to activate and qualify this initiative come November.”

The tax would’ve raised an estimated $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year. In its first decade, 60 percent of its revenue would’ve been split equally among K-12 education, community colleges, the California State University system and the University of California system; 22 percent would’ve gone to clean-energy projects and research; 15 percent would’ve gone to counties for infrastructure and public health and safety services; and 3 percent would’ve gone to state parks. After the first decade, 80 percent would’ve gone to education, 15 percent to counties and 5 percent to state parks.

The revised initiative will have a sliding scale tax of 2 percent to 8 percent, which the proponents say will protect small business owners and jobs while still bringing in about $1 billion per year.

The revised initiative also will change the revenue allocation: 50 percent would be put in a special 30-year endowment fund for education, which after three years would start paying out equally to K-12, community colleges, CSU and UC. The proponents predict that after 30 years of collecting interest, it would bring in as much as $3.5 billion per year for education.

Another 25 percent would provide families and businesses with subsidies for switching to cleaner, cheaper energy, and the final 25 percent would be put toward rolling back the gas tax increase enacted last July, to make gas more affordable for working-class Californians, the proponents say.

Working to qualify the measure by early spring will be the University of California Student Association, groups at San Francisco State University, Sonoma State University, CSU Bakersfield and several community colleges. California College Democrats and California Young Democrats, both of which have endorsed an extraction tax for education and clean energy, are also lending support.

“It’s hard to believe that California is the only state that practically gives away our energy – especially when, as a state, our schools and colleges continue to struggle and we have yet to provide adequate funding to meet our own renewable energy standards,” College Democrats President Erik Taylor said.

The UCSA, representing hundreds of thousands of UC students, plans to organize across several campuses. “Affordability and funding are critical issues at the UC and Prop 30 simply is not the solution in itself that we need,” UCSA President Kareem Aref. “Our campaigns for this year are designed to ensure a stable and long term funding stream for the UC.”