Brown & Whitman Energy Appointments at Stake

By Published On: October 29, 2010

Ballot measures may get most of the attention when it comes to energy and the environment, but the outcome of the governor’s race is expected also to have a major effect. While Democratic contender Jerry Brown favors alternative power development to increase green jobs and help the environment, so too does Republican candidate Meg Whitman. Brown, however, has a more developed plan and Whitman has made disparaging remarks about the green economy, saying green jobs represent only a small percent of new employment. Brown has been stalwart as attorney general in advancing the state’s greenhouse gas law. Whitman says she would halt AB 32’s implementation for a year. She wants to review the law and see how to amend it to reduce its economic impact. Who the next governor appoints to the California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy Commission, California Independent System Operator, and California Air Resources Board is likely to impact energy policy more than additions or reductions of staff. That includes naming the heads of those agencies. Under Whitman or Brown--both of whom proclaim they want belt-tightening--new appointees inevitably will lead these agencies and help carry out the state chief executive’s energy, climate change, and environmental policy priorities. Will Brown appointees tilt strictly toward ratepayer and environmental protection? Will they be sympathetic to unions? If so, will they seek to increase regulations, or will they embrace the market-based approaches that have become increasingly dominant since the 1990s? Will Whitman simply reach into the ranks of corporate California to fill seats, or will her appointments prove to be as surprising as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s have been? Remember it was Schwarzenegger who appointed Terry Tamminen, a minor Shakespearean actor, an environmental activist, and the pool cleaner at Schwarzenegger’s Los Angeles mansion to lead the Air Board. There is also the issue of Senate confirmation of all those appointees. The new and nominated commissioners must be approved by the Senate within one year of their appointment. If Whitman were to win and appointments she made conflict with interests of the democratically-controlled Senate they will surely languish. Polls show--as well as how the gubernatorial candidates seem to be reading the tea leaves--that voters are set to defeat Proposition 23. Polls also show voters want to limit government and are likely to pass Proposition 26. If voters say no to Proposition 23, it would end debate in California about cutting greenhouse gases and building a new renewable energy economy. Instead, the state would move forward with these goals. New policymakers under a new governor certainly will guide the transition to a new energy future, including its pace, technological mix, and decision making process, which could be either more or less inclusive. But next Tuesday’s election seems certain to establish the overall course for energy policy for a decade or more to come.

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