Brown targets drought, gasoline consumption in State of the State speech

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2014

California Gov. Jerry Brown highlighted the record-breaking drought in his annual State of the State speech today, calling it a “stark warning” of climate change.

The three-term Democrat — who hasn’t said if he’ll run for re-election this year — is grappling with an intensifying drought, declaring an emergency last week and asking Californians to voluntarily reduce water use (Greenwire, Jan. 21).

The drought, he said, is a warning of changing weather patterns spurred by global warming.

“We do not know how much our current problem derives from the buildup of heat-trapping gases, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come,” he said, urging water conservation as the state makes long-term changes in water management.

Brown singled out gasoline consumption as the “biggest challenge” to reducing greenhouse gases.

“In terms of greenhouse gases, our biggest challenge remains the amount of gasoline Californians use,” he said. “Each year, our motor vehicles use more than 14 billion gallons of gasoline to travel over 330 billion miles. To put those numbers in perspective, the sun is 93 million miles away.”

He added, “Of all the states, and even of most of the countries of the world, California is the leader in dealing with climate change,” a reference to the emission-cutting law, A.B. 32, the state renewable portfolio standard and targets for electric vehicle penetration.

“Reducing our oil consumption, two-thirds of which is imported by ships and tank cars, will take time, breakthrough technologies and steadfast commitment. It will also require that the countries which burn the most fossil fuel join with us,” he said. “We’ve started building those partnerships with other states and countries like China. We will go to Mexico next. California can’t do this alone.”

Environmentalists praised Brown’s focus on the drought but also sought to draw attention to their campaign for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

“Governor Brown made his strength as a leader clear this past week when he declared a drought emergency in California,” Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips said. “However, he missed a vital opportunity to call for a moratorium on one of the biggest threats to California’s water security: fracking.”

The hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, in which a fluid mixture is blasted underground to extract oil and gas from fissures in rock, uses up water and produces greenhouse gases by making more fossil fuels available, she pointed out.

“Our limited fresh water should be reserved for supporting agriculture, quenching the thirst of city dwellers and providing flows for endangered fish and wildlife,” Phillips said. “Expanding production of fossil fuels contradicts California’s commitment to addressing climate disruption. It diverts investment from clean energy to dirty fuels that are at the heart of the climate problem.”

Oil industry representatives said that reducing gasoline consumption would take time as makers of cellulosic ethanol and other alternative fuels ramp up production.

“California gasoline consumption has been declining steadily for each of the past seven years,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association. “We need breakthrough technologies like low-carbon cellulosic ethanol, produced at commercial scale. Despite early promise, those breakthroughs are proving more difficult to achieve than originally thought.”