While in Beijing, Gov. Jerry Brown publicly promoted the fight against climate change. Just as important was the quiet attendance of AES, a major builder of fossil-fuel power plants in California.
Was the governor making plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, or was he making deals to build more climate-warming natural gas plants? Unfortunately, California’s transparency laws don’t ensure the disclosure of such backroom conversations.
AES was part of a 30-member business delegation organized by the Bay Area Council and chipped in an extra $5,500 to participate.
Businesses contribute to the California State Protocol Foundation that finances the governor’s travel and paid for this trip. NRG, another fossil-fuel power plant builder, donated $25,000 to the foundation.
Both AES and NRG also have donated tens of thousands of dollars to two of Brown’s favorite causes, the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute.
AES recently won the right to build two big, unnecessary new fossil-fuel power plants in the Los Angeles Basin for Southern California Edison. When Californians are overpaying billions of dollars for their electricity, and independent operators are shutting down their plants, it’s outrageous that AES would win the right to build new fossil-fueled power plants and then parade around the world with the governor as climate change champions while enjoying special access to top officials.
Did AES ask Gov. Brown or California Energy Commission Chair Robert Weisenmiller (also on the China trip) to soften up the PUC before Edison asks to build even more capacity into the plants?
We don’t know, because no backroom deals need be disclosed unless PUC commissioners or administrative law judges are involved.
The PUC should disclose any contact between AES and administration officials on the trip, as well as the governor himself. If the PUC won’t do that, then the Legislature should make it disclose and require other power plant regulators to do the same.
The PUC itself has a troubled history of backroom dealing. Former PUC President Michael Peevey remains under criminal investigation for secretly cutting a deal with Edison on a business-financed Poland junket to make ratepayers cover most of the billions of dollars to decommission a flawed nuclear power plant.
All five of Brown’s appointed PUC commissioners are his former top aides or executive branch appointees. They do the governor’s bidding. One, Cliff Rechtschaffen, fired tough oil and gas safety regulators trying to make oil production safer.
It’s no accident that 15 natural gas power plants have been green-lighted or constructed under Brown while we have such a glut of power that we pay other states to take our excess solar energy. The public has a right to know how such deals get done as it is paying $40 billion a year for electricity — nearly $7 billion more than a decade ago.
The people of California are owed full disclosure of any conversations with energy companies on Brown’s Beijing fling.
There is no other government decision-maker in California besides Brown who is more instrumental in shaping policies that keep fossil fuels in business.
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate with Consumerwatchdog.org.