Jerry Brown Braves the Big Chill in Talking Climate

But the California governor relies largely on existing programs for progress

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Governor Jerry Brown spent much of his State of the State address on California's environmental goals.

In a speech described by one Orange County Republican as “vintage Jerry,” Governor Jerry Brown tried to re-conjure the image of California as a can-do state. Brown also devoted a large portion of his annual State of the State address to environmental and climate-related topics.

Showing none of the climate timidity that has overtaken national politics, Brown declared that, “fossil fuels, particularly foreign oil, create ever rising costs to our economy and to our health.” By contrast, President Obama avoided using the word “climate” even once in last year’s State of the Union message, and gave global warming only the slightest nod in a recent address to science-friendly staffers at the Environmental Protection Agency.

While job creation was at the top of Brown’s eight-point list of New Year’s resolutions, it was quickly followed by:

  • Build renewable energy
  • Reduce pollution and greenhouse gasses
  • Launch the nation’s only high-speed rail system
  • Reach agreement on a plan to fix the Delta

Referring to a long-awaited long-term management plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Brown went as far as attaching a timeline, saying, “By this summer we should have the basic elements of the project we need to build.” More than 20 million Californians depend, to some degree, on the Delta for water.

While not adding too much detail, Brown warned Californians of what lies ahead:

“This is an enormous project. It will ensure water for 25 million Californians and for millions of acres of farmland as well a hundred thousand acres of new habitat for spawning fish and other wildlife. To get it done will require time, political will and countless permits from state and federal agencies. I invite your collaboration and constructive engagement.”

Brown cited California’s leadership in, “encouraging electric vehicles and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases,” but — as was the case at his one-day climate conference in December — passed on the opportunity to announce any major new initiatives.

Brown has set a personal goal of “20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020,” though that remains a moral challenge, not a legal mandate. California law now requires utilities to derive a third of their electricity purchases from renewables by the same date. “I can tell you we are on track to meet that goal and substantially exceed it,” said Brown.

The Governor cited a recent cooperative arrangement struck with the federal Department of the Interior for getting projects sited, and noted that, “In the last two years alone, California has permitted over 16,000 megawatts of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects.”

The entire text of the speech is available on the Governor’s website.