As Gov. Jerry Brown lays out his first-term agenda Monday, he confronts a thorny array of environmental and energy issues, many with a potential to drive billions of dollars in state and private spending and have a major effect on public health.
Will Brown push forward with the nation's toughest curbs on toxic chemicals in consumer products — proposed by the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, then abruptly withdrawn in December?
Will he sign into law a bill vetoed by Schwarzenegger that would require California to draw a third of its electricity from solar and other renewable sources?
Will he face down the nation's auto industry, which is revving up to fight a new round of limits on the greenhouse gas emissions of automobiles?
Brown has taken office "at a critical moment in California's history [when] the state's long-term prosperity is vulnerable to climate change, energy insecurity, environmental threats to public health and a growing scarcity of key resources," warned a UCLA Law School report earlier this month. "The governor has a tremendous opportunity to set our state on the right path."
Expectations are high that Brown will be more eco-friendly than his predecessor, but so far Brown and his aides have been mum on his environmental and energy priorities. "We are focused appropriately on the governor's budget proposal," said Sandy Cooney, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency. "We'll have much more to say moving forward."
Key appointments, including the secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and the director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, have yet to be announced.
Environmentalists are lobbying for a wholesale turnover in the membership of commissions and agencies they view as having favored industry under Schwarzenegger, including those that govern forestry, fish and game, parks and recreation, and regional air pollution. They also want to push for increased monitoring and enforcement.
"Jerry Brown is a more authentic and consistent environmentalist" than Schwarzenegger, said Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), co-chairman of the Legislature's environmental caucus. "Arnold showed some leadership on high-profile issues like climate change, renewable energy and ocean protection, but … he saw laws like the California Environmental Quality Act and the Endangered Species Act as nuisances."
Bill Magavern, California director of the Sierra Club, noted that one of Brown's first decisions, to reappoint environmental lawyer Mary D. Nichols as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, "indicates a certain amount of continuity" with the Schwarzenegger administration. Nichols, a Democrat, also served as chairwoman under Brown's first administration three decades ago.
Environmentalists applauded Brown's appointment of former Assemblyman John Laird, an opponent of offshore drilling and an advocate for parks funding, as secretary of Natural Resources. The naming of Karen Ross, a proponent of sustainable farming practices, as secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture also drew kudos.
Business reaction so far has been muted. "We'll wait to see how they do," said Gino DiCaro, a spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn. "We're looking for policymakers who understand the needs of manufacturers and look for ways to provide relief."
Key issues on Brown's environmental and energy agenda include:
In 2008, California enacted groundbreaking laws to curb toxic chemicals in consumer products, one requiring the state to identify harmful substances and evaluate safer alternatives and another to set up a database on the chemicals' effects.
Amid a battle between health and environmental groups and a coalition of chemical, automobile and other companies, the Schwarzenegger administration called a time-out, dropping the controversy over how to implement the laws into Brown's lap.
California generates about 2% of its electricity from wind and less than 1% from solar.
Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation to require that a third of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, which businesses say will raise electricity rates.
Brown is expected to sign the bill. He also has pledged to shift away from Schwarzenegger's emphasis on industrial-scale plants underway in the desert, saying he would streamline permits for the larger plants but rely on localized generation (panels on smaller, already degraded parcels of land, atop parking lots and warehouses, and on residential rooftops) for more than half the 20,000 new megawatts of renewable generation he proposes.