Jerry Brown’s Secret War on Clean Energy

Published on

Jerry Brown’s Secret War on Clean Energy

By Michael Shellenberger, ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESS

January 11, 2018


Since he was elected in 2010, California Gov. Jerry Brown has gained an international reputation as a climate leader. He has spoken at the Vatican, at U.N. climate talks, and promoted California’s policies in China. Journalists routinely praise Brown for reducing emissions by expanding clean energy.

But is Brown’s climate reputation deserved?

A new, two-year investigation by Environmental Progress concludes that no American politician has killed more clean energy than Gov. Jerry Brown — and in ways that often benefited his own family financially.

We publish this story on the day the Brown-controlled California Public Utilities Commission has voted to kill Diablo Canyon, California’s largest single source of clean energy, and the state’s last nuclear plant.

They did so despite being under federal and state criminal investigation relating to the closure of yet another nuclear plant, San Onofre, in 2013.

Had Brown’s policies resulted in lower emissions and cheaper energy, this would just be the story of yet another crooked political family.

But they didn’t: Brown’s policies have increased California’s carbon emissions and increased electricity prices.

Between 2011 and 2016, Gov. Brown’s time in office, electricity prices rose nearly four times more (16.7 percent) in California than they did nationally (3.7 percent).[1]

What makes EP’s investigation even more significant is the crucial role Brown played in legitimizing anti-scientific anti-nuclear ideology, and creating the anti-nuclear movement — one which has replaced nuclear plants with fossil fuels (under the guise of renewable energy promotion) in Germany, Vermont, Japan, Taiwan, and other nations around the world.  

The story begins in the 1960s with the construction of Diablo Canyon. The goal of the state’s electric utilities was, at the time, to reduce dependence on coal, oil and natural gas, which were and remain expensive and dirty.

But the same year the Sierra Club endorsed the building of Diablo Canyon, Brown’s family came into extraordinary oil wealth — wealth that depended on maintaining the state’s dependence on imported foreign oil.

On taking power in 1975, Brown and his allies aggressively wielded power in ways that directly benefited Brown’s family, which included killing nuclear power plants.  

All of the evidence and sources we cite come from credible newspaper, historical, archival, and court evidence, and none of the facts we present have been, to our knowledge, contested by any of the parties involved.

While little of the evidence we present is new — and most of it is, in fact, decades old — EP has presented comprehensive evidence that the war on nuclear energy has a strong financial component.

We are not suggesting that financial motives alone explain the anti-nuclear movement. But the heavy and sustained involvement of Gov. Brown and others with a direct financial interest in killing the main competitor to petroleum and natural gas can no longer be ignored as a key factor to its rise and continuing power.

Jerry Brown’s Secret War on Clean Energy


In the early 1960s, an artist named Kathy Jackson started an effort to protect the Nipomo sand dunes near the central coast of California. Jackson’s strategy was to bring the state’s most powerful people to Nipomo so they could see their beauty for themselves.

One of them was the President of the Sierra Club, Will Siri, a biophysicist from the University of California, Berkeley.

“I didn’t know it looked like this,” Siri told Jackson. “It is magnificent.”

Most of the dunes were undeveloped, but the economically depressed county of San Luis Obispo had zoned them industrial, and was actively seeking their development.

Later, Siri recalled, “We toured the dunes, and it was clear that they had to be preserved. Some of the flora and fauna was rare; it could not be found in many other places.”[2]

But now Pacific Gas & Electric was considering building a nuclear power plant at the location.

Siri was famous in conservation circles as a world-class mountaineer. In 1954, Siri led the first American climbing expedition to the Himalayas. They climbed Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world.

In route, Siri saved a man’s life.[2] He came upon a member of the climbing team of Sir Edmund Hillary. The year before Hillary made history by becoming the first man, along with his Nepalese Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, to reach the summit of Everest. One of their men had fallen into a crevasse, and Siri rescued him.

On his return from Makalu, Siri showed slides and gave lectures on his adventure to Sierra Club chapters up and down California state, becoming widely admired. Two years later, he was asked to join the Sierra Club’s board.

During his 18 years on the Sierra Club board, Siri played a key role in transforming the Sierra Club from being a gentlemanly San Francisco-based hiking club to one of the country’s fiercest advocacy organizations.

“We couldn’t play the role of country gentlemen,” Siri recalled, “we were activists and had a lot of battles to win; and we couldn’t always pull our punches to spare acquaintances in government bureaus.”[2]

Under Siri’s leadership the Sierra Club won major victories to protect Mineral King — a stunning northern California valley that Walt Disney wanted to turn into a ski resort — ancient redwood forests, and the Grand Canyon.

By 1966, Siri was helping Jackson get the Sierra Club Board of Directors to unanimously support saving Nipomo Dunes.

Siri and Jackson met with PG&E, which by then had bought 1,100 acres of the best part of the dunes in order to build a nuclear plant.

Siri and Jackson sought a compromise: PG&E, they said, could build the plant about a mile from the water. That turned out not to make sense economically, PG&E executives complained, since the plant needed closer access to the water.

Siri was unmoved. “We want the dunes preserved,” Siri told them, “go find another place.”

PG&E left and came back with a new proposal: it would build six reactors at a single plant on the coast. Doing so would allow for economies of scale, which had both an economic and conservationist logic.

“If you were going to wreck a piece of coast, one unit will do it as well as two,” Siri explained later. “The object was to find a site where they could put multiple units.” Doing so would avoid the need for building more power plants along the coast.[2]

Will Siri and Kathy Jackson brought the swap for Nipomo Dunes to the Sierra Club Board of Directors for consideration. They debated the matter for a day and half and then voted 9 – 1 to not oppose PG&E’s plans to build Diablo Canyon.[3]

The nuclear power plant would go forward with the tacit blessing of one of the most powerful organizations in California. It would be given the name granted to the place by Spanish explorers: Diablo Canyon.


In the 1950s and 1960s, American liberals and conservationists were mostly pro-nuclear, viewing it as a solution to poverty and pollution.

But not all conservationists thought lifting people out of poverty was a good thing. Some, influenced by the British economist Thomas Malthus, thought more prosperity would result in more people and more environmental destruction.

In 1948, two influential books — William Vogt’s Road to Survival and Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet — argued that a rising human population would create resource scarcity and environmental crisis.

Osborn was the son of a eugenicist and “Aryan enthusiast,” while Vogt, a conservationist, would go on to become the national director of Planned Parenthood.

The idea of human progress, Vogt wrote, was “idiotic in an over-peopled, atomic age, with much of the world a shambles.” Continued progress for the world’s poor would invariably result in collapse. Humankind had “backed itself into an ecological trap.” There was still time to avoid the “catastrophic crash of our civilization, but only through “austerity.”

Vogt worried about rampant breeding by world’s poor, particularly Indians. “Before the imposition of Pax Britannica, India had an estimated population of less than 100 million people,” Vogt wrote wistfully. [4]

“It was in check by disease, famine, and fighting. Within a remarkably short period the British checked the fighting and contributed considerably to making famines ineffectual by building irrigation works, providing means of food storage, and importing food during periods of starvation… While economic and sanitary conditions were being ‘improved,’ the Indians went to their accustomed way, breeding with the irresponsibility of codfish…sex play is the national sport.”

Preventing catastrophe, Vogt argued, required hard limits on population and economic growth. The key was not the substitution of natural resources with synthetic ones, as modern prophets of progress proposed, but rather the sustainable use of renewable resources.

Anti-humanist Malthusianism gradually merged with anti-humanist spiritualism pioneered by the German philosopher and Nazi, Martin Heidegger, who in 1954 penned a famous essay on “The Question of Technology.”[5]

In it he argued that humans were at risk of mindlessly treating the whole of nature as a standing reserve of resources for our consumption.

The use of “modern technology,” Heidegger wrote

“…puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such… Air is now set upon to yield nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium…to yield atomic energy…”

These ideas were brought together by conservationists, including the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, David Brower, who reported to Will Siri.

Brower was popular with members, but his troubles with the Sierra Club’s board of directors were growing. Brower was spending Club money, without authorization, on first class jet travel and luxury hotels in New York. What particularly upset the Board was when Brower secretly wrote into his contract a bonus for his publishing and editing work.[6]

As the Sierra Club board started to clamp down on Brower’s spending, he started attacking the Board’s decision to support the building of Diablo Canyon.

“If a doubling of the state’s population in the next 20 years is encouraged by providing the power resources for this growth,” Brower said, California’s “scenic character will be destroyed.”[3] 

Brower wasn’t opposed to nuclear for safety reasons but because it would provide cheap electricity for the masses: people he hoped to see excluded from California.

Siri responded with arguments that would today be considered “ecomodernist.”

“Nuclear power is one of the chief long-term hopes for conservation, perhaps next to population control in importance… Cheap energy in unlimited quantities is one of the chief factors allowing a large, rapidly growing population to set aside wildlands, open space and lands of high-scenic value. Even our capacity and leisure to enjoy this luxury is linked to the existence of cheap energy.”[3]


While Siri and Brower were arguing about nuclear energy, California’s former Governor, Edmund “Pat” Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown’s father, started helping the Indonesian military dictatorship raise money to expand its state-owned oil industry.

Pat Brown eventually raised an astonishing $13 billion ($100 billion in 2017 dollars) mostly from U.S. banks, the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters reported in 1990.[7]

In exchange for Brown’s services, the state Indonesian oil company Pertamina gave him exclusive and highly valuable rights to sell Indonesian oil in California.

The Indonesian generals also gave Brown half-ownership of its office in Hong Kong, giving Brown “a little taste,” said Walters, “as they might say in the Mafia.”[8]

At the time, California burned significant quantities of oil for electricity production, not just for transportation.[7]

Between 1966 and 1974, the Sierra Club started to favor coal over nuclear, even though prominent nuclear advocates like Oak Ridge National Lab’s Alvin Weinberg were warning the world of the threat of global warming from continued coal use.[9]

Said one Sierra Club board director in response to those arguments, “Unlike nuclear, which risks long-term genetic damage, coal’s impacts won’t be felt generations from now.”

In 1974, Jerry Brown ran for governor. Executives from Pertamina, the Indonesian oil company, gave him $70,000 — $350,000 in 2017 dollars.[7]

Gov. Brown’s sister, Kathleen Brown acknowledged that her father gave her a “living trust” that originated from money earned by her father selling Indonesian oil in California, but Gov. Brown has never said either way whether he inherited his family’s oil wealth.[7]

Whatever the case, shortly after he won, Brown started taking actions to defend his family’s oil monopoly in California.

Brown appointed his former campaign manager, Tom Quinn, to be Director of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), who immediately changed an air pollution regulation in order to scuttle an oil refinery being built by Chevron, which would have introduced Alaskan oil into the California market, and competed directly with the Brown family’s oil business.[7]

At the very same time, another top Brown political aide-turned appointee, Richard Maullin, chairman of the California Energy Commission (CEC) began pressuring the state’s utilities to burn more oil rather than shift to nuclear energy.[7]

And Gov. Brown appointed his friend and Getty Oil investment manager, Bill Newsom, to the State Superior Court.

At the time, California’s electric utilities were proposing the building of nuclear plants as a way to reduce the state’s heavy reliance on oil and natural gas, whose prices had shot up in the early 1970s, after the OPEC oil embargo.[10]

And so, in 1976, Brown teamed up with the Sierra Club to kill them.


On July 1, 1979, some 30,000 people assembled at an air strip in a remote part of the central California coast to hear Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash other pop stars sing at a “No Nukes” concert.[11]

The target of the protest? Diablo Canyon, the nuclear plant being built about 15 miles away. A young North Hollywood father explained to the reporter that it had to be stopped “to show the power of the people.”[11]

The appearance of California’s young governor, the 41 year-old Jerry Brown, pushed the concert to the front-pages of newspapers across the state.

Concert organizers, the Abalone Alliance, were suspicious of the governor’s sincerity, questioned him for an hour, and privately deliberated before deciding to let him speak.

Once onstage, Brown flattered the young concert-goers. They represented “The triumph of the people over power,” Brown said “a growing power to protect the earth.”[11]

Brown made a promise to the crowd. “I personally intend to pursue every avenue of appeal if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ignores the will of this community.”[11]

Brown’s speech earned him a minute-long standing ovation, and Brown ended his talk by leading the crowd in a chant, “No on Diablo! No on Diablo! No on Diablo!” The next day’s headline read “Rally Spurs Brown to Oppose Diablo.”[11]

One of the books that supposedly most influenced Brown and his allies was the 1973 Malthusian tract, Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher.

The book argued that fossil fuels were finite and that humans thus needed to significantly reduce their energy and resource consumption.

Even though the 1973 shortages were due to an OPEC oil embargo, and natural gas shortages were largely a consequence of price controls, the Malthusians persuaded many elites that energy was physically scarce.

But on this point the Malthusians were slippery. “Even if we were to find a source of cheap, clean energy, we should be opposed because of what we might do with it,” said Amory Lovins, an advisor to both the Sierra Club and Gov. Jerry Brown.

“In fact, giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point,” agreed Sierra Club author, Paul Ehrlich, “would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”[12]

The Sierra Club’s new executive director was convinced, and advocated a fear-mongering campaign.

“We should try to tighten up regulation of the [nuclear] industry,” wrote the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Michael McCloskey, in a secret 1976 memo to the Board of Directors, “…with the expectation that this will add to the cost of the industry and render its economics less attractive.”[3]

Anti-nuclear groups introduced a ballot initiative that would effectively ban nuclear, and a close Brown ally introduced legislation to block new plants from being built until a waste repository had been created.

Requiring a repository as a prerequisite for nuclear power would allow Brown’s anti-nuclear allies, Ralph Nader, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council, to prevent the construction of nuclear power plants merely by then blocking the waste repository, as has now been the case for over forty years.

When the state’s electric utilities came out against the bill, Gov. Brown threatened to campaign in favor of the more radical ballot initiative unless they backed down. The utilities caved in, and allowed the legislation to pass, and Brown signed it into law.


One year later, San Diego Gas and Electric sought to build five nuclear plants in a project called “Sundesert,” which Brown attacked directly and through the agencies he controlled.[3]

Brown’s allies at the California Energy Commission (CEC) argued that future demand should instead be met by burning oil and coal.[3]

A departing CEC Commissioner objected to CEC’s low-balling of future demand, accusing Brown and his allies of “purposely attempting to stop nuclear power in the state.”[3]

Brown’s California Air Resources Board (CARB) backed up CEC, concluding that “new fossil fuel power plants can be built in many parts of California without causing environmental damage,” and recommending the building of a coal plant.[3]

“The governor said, ‘I want the Department of Water Resources to build a coal plant,’” said Ron Robie, Director of the Department of Water Resources, a branch of the state Resources Agency.[3]

Robie and Huey Johnson, Brown’s appointee to the Resources Agency, held a press conference in March 1978 where they declared “coal technology has come a long way.”[3]

Johnson said they were doing it to “demonstrate that there are reasonable alternatives to nuclear energy.” Robie added wistfully, “So we embarked on the planning of a coal plant… a dreadful prospect.”[3]

Brown’s behavior outraged other Democrats. Progressive Los Angeles Mayor, Tom Bradley, criticized Brown for secretly killing Sundesert. The effort to kill Sundesert was “orchestrated by the Governor for his own reasons,” a member of the state Assembly charged. “It obviously had nothing to do with the merits of the case.”[3]

Brown was unapologetic and boasted to a reporter, “I blocked the Sundesert plant.”[3]

In 1979, Brown’s initially chilly reception by the “No Nukes” concert organizers made it seem like the governor was responding to the anti-nuclear movement. In reality, Brown had been quietly leading anti-nuclear efforts for years.

Between 1976 and 1979, Brown and his allies killed so many nuclear power plants that, had they been built, California would today be generating almost all of its electricity from zero-pollution power plants.


Brown gave Malthusian, “small-is-beautiful” justifications for killing nuclear plants. But if Brown were anti-energy, why was he constantly seeking to expand oil and natural gas production?

Consider Brown’s oil adventure in Mexico.

In 1976, the military general who headed the state-owned Pertamina oil company was ousted after widespread corruption under his management was discovered. After the oil boom collapsed in the early 1970s, Pertamina’s loans went into default, and threatened American banks.[7]

Shortly after, Gov. Jerry Brown and his father, Pat, lobbied aggressively to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Southern California to import natural gas from Indonesia.

The LNG terminal, noted former Sacramento Bee reporter Walters, “would have relieved Pertamina’s serious money problems, and indirectly bailed out the big U.S. banks that had loaned Pertamina billions of dollars.”[7]

The Brown family’s oil and gas ties extended into Mexico. Brown Sr. did business deals with a Mexican oil and gas family headed by Carlos Bustamante, head of a powerful Mexican oil and gas family, the New York Times reported in a long, front-page investigative article for the Sunday paper in 1979.[13]

In April, 1977, Gov. Brown requested the sale of Mexican natural gas to California. Gov. Brown met with Mexico’s president twice in 1978, and the California Energy Commission’s Maullin, met with other Mexican officials about energy.[13]

Some of those meetings with government officials were arranged by Bustamante, the “only non-government person present, according to participants,” reported the New York Times.[13]

Gov. Brown acknowledged that he urged Mexico’s president to approve a power plant project in Baja California to provide power to the San Diego Gas and Electric Company, for whom Bustamante worked to lobby the Mexican government, and who was both the principal investor in the proposed gas plant and owner of the land upon which it would sit.[13]

In 1979, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated allegations that Gov. Brown’s 1974 campaign for Governor failed to report contributions from Bustamante. The FBI “received several allegations from Democratic politicians and businessmen of unreported Bustamante contributions totaling at least $40,000…”[13]

The New York Times reports that “One of the allegations, which reportedly include details about principals in the transactions, is said to tie unreported contributions to gas and oil deals benefitting the Bustamantes.”[13]

One American investment banker who was both in business with Bustamante and donated to Brown’s campaign said Gov. Brown “tried to get the Mexican Government to drill for natural gas in Baja.”[13]

In 1978, the San Diego Gas and Electric Company cancelled the project because it could have been used as a “vehicle for improper payments,” in the words of the utility’s lawyer.[13]

But even after the project was killed for fear of corruption, Gov. Brown’s administration sought yet another oil and gas project with the Bustamante family.[13]

Brown’s anti-nuclear work wasn’t finished when he left office in 1982. Seven years later, two close allies, Bob Mulholland and Bettina Redway, passed a ballot initiative to shut down Rancho Seco nuclear plant near Sacramento, which Brown had also tried to shut down toward the end of his time in office.[14]

Shortly after, Brown — now Chair of the Democratic Party — would reward Mulholland with a job as Political Director.

And Redway’s husband, Michael Picker, would become a close advisor to Gov. Brown. On Brown’s return to power, Picker helped lead the effort to kill San Onofre. Now, as President of the CPUC, Picker is working to shut down Diablo Canyon.


Since 2011, Brown has actively sought to advance oil and gas interests, including his own.

  • In 2013, a lobbyist for Pacific Gas and Electric told his boss in an email that Gov. Brown told a CPUC Commissioner to approve a natural-gas fired power plant for PG&E.[8]

  • In 2011, he fired two state regulators because they were were enforcing federal fracking regulations to protect California’s water quality.[8]

  • In 2014, Brown even ordered the California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to explore his family’s land for oil and gas rights. The agency produced a 51-page report complete with satellite-images of oil and gas deposits for the area around Brown family ranchland.[15]

While Jerry Brown was governor his sister, Kathleen Brown, was on the board of directors of Sempra Energy, one of the country’s largest natural gas companies, and owner of San Diego Gas & Electric.

Actions by Brown appointees have kept open Aliso Canyon, a natural gas storage facility owned by Sempra that suffered a catastrophic leak and mass evacuation.[8]

As of 2016, Kathleen Brown owned 1,000 acres of oil and gas interests in California, and $749,000 worth of stock in real estate and oil company, Forestar Group, that owns 700 acres adjacent to Porter Ranch, where the blow-out occurred. Kathleen Brown is on the board of renewable energy investment company, Renew Financial, which will directly benefit from California’s significant deployment of renewable energy.[8]

After the Aliso Canyon blow-out, Brown took steps to keep the cause of the accident a secret. “Months into the efforts to stop the leak,” notes Consumer Watchdog, a liberal anti-nuclear organization, “Brown issued an executive order keeping any investigation of the causes and whether it could or should be shut down secret.”[8]

As of August 2017, the CPUC was considering allowing ratepayers to be charged $2.1 billion over the next 20 years for a 47-mile, Sempra-owned natural gas pipeline that “would provide virtually no benefit to its core residential and small business customers.” [27]And Brown and his allies returned to their efforts to kill nuclear plants.

In February 2013, Brown appointee and CPUC president, Michael Peevey, sought out a senior executive of Southern California Edison (SCE) while the two men were on a junket in Poland.

Peevey laid out the terms of a deal to close SONGS in exchange for permission from the CPUC to SCE to increase electricity rates in order to charge ratepayers $3.3 billion, and investors an additional $1.4 billion, even though a new steam generator could have been purchased and installed for well under $1 billion. (The prior steam generator had cost less than $800 million.)

While CPUC hangs under the dark cloud of criminal investigation, it is blithely moving forward business-as-usual to close yet another nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, under secretive and suspicious circumstances.

These circumstances include many of the very same actors and groups involved in negotiating the closure of SONGS. One of the key advocates, Americans for Nuclear Responsibility, was represented by longtime Brown advisor, John Geesman, the former Chair of the California Energy Commission and renewable energy investment advocate.[16]

The effort worked, and the electrical output from SONGS was replaced almost entirely by natural gas, significantly increasing the state’s carbon emissions.[8]

In November 2014, agents with the U.S. DOJ and California DOJ raided the offices of the CPUC in a joint investigation of potential criminal activities relating to the permanent closure of, and settlement proceedings for, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

And yet today, the investigation has stalled and the CPUC acts with impunity.

The CPUC refuses to turn over 60 or more emails from Governor Brown’s office to the CPUC relating to the closure of SONGS. CPUC President Picker was, at the time of the privately-negotiated SONGS settlement, working as an advisor to Governor Brown.[17]

More than 18 months have passed since California’s Attorney General assured a reporter that the investigation had not stalled; it is now abundantly clear that it has.

Since the announcement, a new Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Mr. Becerra has never stood for election, but instead owes his position to a possible person-of-interest in DOJ’s investigation, has not recused himself due to conflict-of-interest, and has, as best we can tell, stopped investigating.

Meanwhile, California’s institutions have proved themselves unwilling to root out possible criminal activity.

In 2014, a group of CPUC attorneys publicly warned that their colleagues may have been destroying evidence relating to another criminal investigation of CPUC relating to a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people.[18]

The California legislature passed legislation to reform the CPUC in August 2016, but it was killed at the last minute by CPUC President Picker, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union Tribune.

A state Superior Court Judge, Ernest Goldsmith, made a strongly worded call for CPUC to disclose Picker’s SONGS correspondence.

“This is a big deal. This is not a trivial issue to the taxpayers of California. And just like the San Bruno events [natural gas explosion that killed eight people] were not a trivial deal, and when something is big enough, it’s just got to come out. It’s going to come out, and it’s either going to be horribly painful, or you can just do the right thing.”


Today, over 90 percent of California residents live in counties with air the classified as “unhealthy”.[19]

California has seven of the 10 most polluted metropolitan areas in that state and 11 of the worst 25.[19] Los Angeles-Long Beach, Bakersfield, and Fresno-Madera were the regions with the worst smog levels in the country in 2017.[19]

Between 2011 and 2016, Gov. Brown’s time in office, electricity prices rose nearly four times more (16.7 percent) in California than they did nationally (3.7 percent).

Anything that increases the cost of things like energy and food is regressive, disproportionately impacting the poor, who must spend more of their income on these necessities. California’s mild climate doesn’t remove the energy insecurity of poor families.[20]

Expensive energy harms the poor in another way: by driving manufacturers out of California. From 2012 to 2016, California’s industrial electricity prices rose 14%, while national average prices rose one percent.[21]

Gov. Brown claims, audaciously, to be a climate leader. In truth, carbon emissions rose 3.2 percent in California between 2011 and 2015, even as they declined 3.7 percent in the average over the remaining 49 states.[21]

One of the areas California policymakers have greatest influence is in-state electricity generation. Here too we see that California’s in-state emissions from electricity generation rose from 33 to 44 million metric tonnes of carbon emissions between 2011 and 2015.[21]

In 2016, emissions from electricity produced within California decreased by 19 percent, but two-thirds of that decline came from increased production from the state’s hydro-electric dams, due to it being a rainier year, and thus had nothing to do with the state’s energy policies, while approximately a third of the decline came from increased solar and wind.[22]


Has Gov. Brown’s war on nuclear been driven by ideology, financial self-interest, or an interest in maintaining fossil fuel contributions for his political machine? We will never know for certain, but the answer is probably “all of the above.”

What’s notable however is that the behavior of Gov. Brown and his allies was inconsistent with the Malthusian small-is-beautiful ideology they promoted. Not only did Brown and his allies live high-energy lives characterized by extensive jet travel, they constantly promoted energy projects — principally oil and natural gas, but also renewables — at increasingly large scales.

And even if anti-nuclear ideology (Malthusian or not) were a main driver of Gov. Brown’s anti-nuclear actions, it’s notable that anti-nuclear ideology supports the promotion of non-nuclear energy sources. Had anti-nuclear ideology contradicted Gov. Brown’s financial interests, his actions might have been different.

What’s also clear from the evidence is that Brown and his allies have long traded energy project permitting, regulation, and subsidies for campaign contributions. These exchanges have been well-documented by Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based organization that is vociferously anti-nuclear.

In the 1970s, when Brown was governor for the first time, he was criticized for using federal solar grants to support his political operation. “It’s just a big solar pork barrel,” a Friends of the Earth lobbyist told a reporter for the Berkeley Barb in the mid-seventies. Brown ally “Tom [Hayden] would scream if some right-wing Republican put his cronies on the payroll and then used them to do precinct work for his own re-election campaign.”

Ideology has no doubt been as important for Brown to justify his actions to himself and others. It is notable that at the time Brown’s family went into business with the Indonesian military generals they were in the thick of killing somewhere between 500,000 and three million people in one of the bloodiest anti-communist purges of the 20th Century.  

“To this day, Jerry’s very sensitive about it,” said the Sacramento Bee reporter, Dan Walters, who discovered the ties. “He just hates the idea that people will bring it up because what it is, is the Brown family is in partnership with these corrupt, murderous dictators. It’s not something that a Jerry Brown wants to be associated with.”[23]

Nor does Brown want to be associated with killing nuclear, despite the overwhelming evidence from the historical record. At various moments Gov. Brown has portrayed himself as ambivalent about nuclear, including Diablo Canyon. “Nuclear’s got issues,”Brown said at a 2012 conference, “but it’s good for greenhouse gases. It’s pretty reliable. So I’m open to it.”

However, it is simply impossible to reconcile such a statement with the actions by Brown and his allies to close San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, making it difficult to avoid the conclusion that Brown was deliberately trying to deceive audiences about what was really happening behind the scenes.

Readers who have followed the San Onofre scandal will note that our interpretation of the events at SONGS is different from the mainstream interpretation by journalists and other anti-corruption researchers, principally Consumer Watchdog.

For most journalists and the Consumer Watchdog authors, SONGS had to be closed in response to a mechanical failure of the steam generator. Southern California Edison, its owner, then used its influence to get a sweetheart deal out of the CPUC Commissioners. In this story, CPUC was “captured” by SoCalEdison.

But the evidence does not support the story of regulatory capture. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that it was the Brown Administration, through CPUC, that captured Southern California Edison and, now, Pacific Gas & Electric. It was CPUC’s president that raised the issue of permanently closing SONGS — something Edison executives were not contemplating. In fact, they were working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart the plant.

Further, CPUC’s president dictated the exact terms of the deal that were eventually accepted by all parties, including the anti-nuclear groups that were in on the secret meetings. It wasn’t Edison who laid out the terms. The terms CPUC’s president Peevey laid out were so specific that the Edison executive famously grabbed the Polish hotel stationary so he could write it down.[24]

The terms of the deal the CPUC president offered Edison were so specific, and involved such a large sum of money from California’s citizens — $4.7 billion — that it is inconceivable for this researcher to believe Gov. Brown lacked foreknowledge.

There is now 40 years of evidence of Gov. Brown interfering at even the smallest levels with CPUC and other energy business.

Above we gave three specific examples, just in his recent time as governor: his lobbying a Commissioner to win a PG&E natural gas project; his firing of two state environmental regulators at the behest of Occidental Petroleum; and Brown’s request that the state map his ranch for possible oil and gas deposits.  

And in the 1970s we saw even more significant activity by Brown’s closest allies including: changing pollution regulations to benefit his family’s Indonesian oil monopoly; killing Sundesert; and lobbying Mexico’s President to approve a natural gas project.

I will close with a reflection on the legacy of Diablo Canyon and its 1960s champion Will Siri. With nuclear energy, Siri understood, we can lift all humans out of poverty while reversing humankind’s negative environmental impact. We can, in short, have nature and prosperity for all.

The great man and mountaineer’s vision of vibrant California cities powered with abundant and cheap clean nuclear energy remains alive through the writings of ecomodenists and atomic humanists around the world — including those of us who have been fighting to save Diablo Canyon.

But, as we watch a corrupt political establishment vote to close our largest source of clean energy, what we must also take away from Siri’s life is that having a humanistic vision isn’t enough: one also must have fortitude and courage.


[1] “California,” Environmental Progress, accessed on January 11, 2018. 

[2] Will Siri, Sierra Club Oral History Project, 1977.

[3] Wellock, T.R., Critical Masses: Opposition to Nuclear Power in California, 1998.

[4] William Vogt, “Road to Survival,” 1948. 

[5] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology (1977), pp 3–35

[6] Robert Wyss, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club (2016)

[7] Dan Walters,  “The Brown Link to Indonesian Firm,” Lodi News Sentinel, October 17, 1990.

[8] Liza Tucker, “Brown’s Dirty Hands,” Consumer Watchdog, August 2016. 

[9] Alvin Weinberg, “Global Effects of Man’s Production of Energy,” Science, October 18, 1974. 

[10] “Challenging year ahead for PG&E Company,Ukiah Daily Journal, October 11, 1974. 

[11] “Rally spurs Brown to oppose Diablo,” San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune, July 1, 1979. 

[12] Paul Ehrlich, “An Ecologist’s Perspective on Nuclear Power,” Federation of American Science Public Interest Report Vol. 28, No. 5-6, 1975.

[13] Jeff Gerth, “Gov. Brown Supporting Projects that Aid a Mexican Contributor,” The New York Times, March 11, 1979. 

[14] Mark A. Stein, “Utility to Ask Voters for 18-Month Rancho Seco Reprieve,” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1988. 

[15] Associated Press, “Gov. Jerry Brown had state workers research oil on family ranch,” Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2015. 

[16] Jeff McDonald, “San Onofre plan details under scrutiny,” San Diego Union-Tribune, March 14, 2015. 

A sworn statement (Declaration of Stephen Pickett, April 28, 2015) indicates A4NR’s attorney, Geesman, had been singled out by then President Peevey as important to the potential success of a SONGS settlement:

“President Peevey made it clear, however, that in the event of a permanent shutdown of SONGS he thought it would be best for SCE to engage in settlement negotiations with appropriate consumer groups and other interested parties, and bring a settlement proposal to the CPUC for consideration. President Peevey specifically mentioned John Geesman, who represents the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, as one possible party.”

[17] Jeff McDonald, “Aguirre pushing from Brown’s emails,” San Diego Union-Tribune, November 13, 2015. 

[18] Tony Kovaleski, Liz Wagner and Felipe Escamilla, “Attorneys Suggest Evidence Isn’t Safe at CPUC Amid Federal Investigation,” NBC Bay Area, October 16, 2014. 

[19] “State of the Air 2017: People at Risk In 25 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities,” American Lung Association.

[20] “One in three U.S. households faced challenges in paying energy bills in 2015,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015. 

[21] U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017.

[22] Per data from the Energy Information Agency, in-state electricity production from natural gas declined by 19 TWh in 2016, while Hydro increased by 15.1 TWh, Solar by 6.2 TWh, and Wind by 1.3 TWh. These four fuels represent the vast majority of changes in electricity generation for 2016.

[23] Laer Pearce, “Jerry Brown, oil baron,” The Washington Post, April 16, 2010. 

[24] Jeff McDonald, “Hotel notes show San Onofre deal hatched early,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 10, 2015.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases