Is Jerry Brown Really the Climate Hero He’s Made Out To Be?


California Governor Jerry Brown made headlines earlier this week, but for a reason he might want to forget.

While he was delivering a speech at the UN Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany, a group of indigenous and environmentalist protesters interrupted him with anti-fracking chants like “California’s fracking spreads pollution!” and “In the ground!”

In response to the protesters, Brown belted out: “Let’s put you in the ground.” His choice of words drew quick condemnation, including from leader Bill McKibben, who wrote that Brown responded “Trumpishly.”

Brown’s attack on anti-fracking activists may seem odd to some. There’s a narrative around Brown that paints him as a climate visionary who is crafting a blueprint towards a greener, decarbonized US. A recent Rolling Stone interview, for example, fawned over Brown’s “climate-resistant, economically super charged state.”

But this narrative is a far cry from the whole truth. California remains the third biggest oil producing state in the US, a place where the fossil fuel lobby has tremendous power and influence. Brown has been mired in his share of controversies related to the oil and gas industry — a fact that has escaped wider scrutiny because it contradicts the narrative around him as an environmental hero.

We’ve provided some information and links below that shed more light on Brown’s relationship to the fossil fuel industry — and maybe why it’s no surprise that he viewed the anti-fracking protesters in Bonn with such contempt:

  • While Brown’s cap-and-trade program gets sold as a visionary path towards a green future, it actually exempts some of the state’s oil industry, gives big subsidies to rich fossil fuel companies that may reduce incentives to cut emissions, and prevents local air quality boards from pushing more aggressive regulation. Check out these Los Angeles Times and CALmatters articles and this statement by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to learn more.
  • The administration carelessly allowed oil drillers to pump millions of gallons of chemical-infused wastewater back into the ground, contaminating aquifers with drinkable water – and all this during a drought. When two senior level state officials said this violated the Safe Drinking Water Act, he fired them. Learn more here and here.
  • Even after a historic methane leak at the Aliso Canyon gas facility in Los Angeles, Brown sided with the utilities industry and green-lighted the facility’s reopening in August 2017. Brown’s sister Kathleen sits on the board of the gas field’s parent company and has raked in $1.1 million in compensation – a conflict of interest Brown has not addressed. See our story on all this, as well as this article on health problems nearby residents face.
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  • The fossil fuel industry has thrown troves of money to Brown’s campaigns and causes — as much as $9.8 million. Some of his biggest donors included Chevron, PG&E, SoCalEdison, Sempra, and Occidental. See the Consumer Watchdog report “Brown’s Dirty Hands” for more information.
  • Brown has also brought oil and gas industry executives into his administration. For example, in October 2015 Brown appointed a longtime industry insider as a deputy director of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, a key regulatory position over the state’s oil and gas industry. Read about it here.
  • Unlike some governors, Jerry Brown refuses to ban fracking. In fact, he’s called fracking the Monterey Shale a “fabulous economic opportunity” and said that anti-frackers “don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.” For more information, read Bill McKibben’s op-ed, “Fracking: Jerry Brown’s environmental blind spot.”