What would you call an
all-expenses paid eleven day excursion to Australia and South Korea?
Throw in a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Three nights in the
Four Seasons Hotel of Sydney. And a yacht trip. If you just happen to
be one of the top bureaucrats working for Arnold, you call it a junket.
Four top level appointees of the gov — Cabinet Secretary Marybel
Batjer, Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman, CalEPA Secretary Terry
Taminen and Deputy Secretary of Energy Joe Desmond — just returned
from this very trip, thanks to the energy industry funded California
Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE). Click here to read their itinerary at Political Pulse online.
The trip, officially to educate attendees about the use of the very
controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an energy source, served
as a fantastic summer vacation and 11-day private lobbying meeting for
the CFEE board members on the trip, all of whom happen to work for big
energy companies: ChevronTexaco, Shell, Calpine, Sempra, So Cal Edison
and BHP Billiton International LNG, Inc.
Oh, and they are also big contributors to Arnold. ChevronTexaco,
Calpine, Sempra and Edison made more than a quarter million dollars
($256,200) in campaign contributions to the Governor.
The energy companies are trying to convince the Gov that they should be
allowed to build LNG terminals up and down the coast of California. The
industry is spending so lavishly in this lobbying effort because LNG is
controversial for good reason. LNG could devastate the population for
miles around if ignited. In this age of red and orange alerts, such a
terminal is considered a prime target for attack. (A non-terror LNG
explosion in Algeria this year killed dozens of people.) LNG terminals
are also so costly to build and secure, the state would have to commit
to using a lot of natural gas in the future to make LNG cost-effective.
But to make such a natural gas commitment will dampen the prospect of
diversifying the state’s energy sources, particularly limiting the
financial resources available to dedicate toward renewable and
ultra-clean energy systems.
Companies like Calpine and Sempra are so invested in a natural gas
future that they will go to whatever lengths — like a chartered flight
around Western Australia — to convince Arnold and his crew to join
their side in the LNG debate.
But if Arnold is, as he says, for the public interest and not the
special interest, then he will not allow his staff to be flown around
the world by special interests. If the Gov. really thought this
excursion was a wise use of government time, then the government should
repay the energy group for the officials’ trip. Better still, because
its itinerary was clearly not constructed with budget crisis frugality
in mind, Arnold should use his own campaign contributions to repay
CFEE. (That quarter of a million in campaign contributions from
ChevronTexaco and the others will come in handy.)