When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger threw his political weight, and the promise of state funding, behind a nascent transmission line from Wyoming to California this week, he infuriated environmentalists. It's widely believed that such a line would bring coal-fired power to the state-and not the "clean" kind. The move left many political observers wondering what sort of energy policy the governor actually embraces. He appears to speak with forked tongue. "Million Solar Roofs" is on his agenda. So is coal. It's like saying one is faithful to one's wife, but groping is permissible. In the best light, though, this artifice will lead to a political debate over supplies, economics, and pollution in the state's future energy portfolio. Schwarzenegger, along with the chiefs of state from Wyoming (D), Utah (R), and Nevada (R), agreed to use their states' resources to develop a major new transmission line, dubbed "Frontier Line." New Mexico governor Bill Richardson (D) was notably absent, although he is a leader among Western governors on energy issues. His office did not return repeated calls for comment. The announcement, made at the beginning of the week with little advance notice, took some California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission staff-as well as environmentalists-by surprise. It immediately garnered support, however, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California Independent System Operator. The lack of notice apparently was due to concerns about getting it out before the federal energy bill was marked up. The markup started this week. The governors agreed "to create a structure that will allow us to pursue the further development of the transmission project," notes the April 4 memorandum of understanding. They created a coordinating committee "supported at the highest levels of each of our governments" with the "necessary time and resources" for feasibility work. The committee will "fulfill the role of a surrogate developer until the transmission project can be made available for further feasibility analysis and development by a developer(s)." Pat Wood, FERC chair, said his "agency applauds the leadership the four state governors are demonstrating working cooperatively to meet energy needs on a regional basis." While federal and state transmission agencies rallied, environmentalists and, apparently, CPUC and California Energy Commission staff were caught off guard. Sources say agency staff were not notified. If angry e-mails were raindrops, the administration would have been under a deluge this week. However, a few key people were in the know. CPUC member Dian Grueneich appeared at the governors' press conference. According to CEC spokesperson Claudia Chandler, "for months" her agency has been aware of the plan, earlier dubbed "WyCal." The rub for environmentalists is the potential for a new transmission line to bring in more electricity from coal-fired power plants-reportedly 6,000 MW worth of new supply. The plants would be located outside California, and their pollution would affect communities where they are sited, contribute to global warming, and increase mercury contamination. Joe Desmond, deputy secretary of energy, maintains that the state only intends to support "clean coal," and the line would bring in wind and central-station solar power too. What Desmond says and what the actual agreement states are two different things. The governors paid lip service to promoting "clean coal" technologies. Yet there is nothing in their agreement pertaining to, or defining, "clean coal." The agreement paves the way to coordinate states on legislative and regulatory issues, and it would lead to a power flow analysis and determine whether such a line should be AC or DC. According to Desmond, the governors believe that the line would be economically beneficial to all-with a $400 million benefit to California. The governors' agreement was not conceived to say "what is or isn't clean coal," Desmond adds. The lack of specifics makes enviros real nervous. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)"insists that in order for coal to have a future, it must demonstrate environmental performance comparable to an integrated gasification combined-cycle plant with the capacity to capture and store its global warming pollution," said Ralph Cavanagh, NRDC energy policy director. The organization has been promoting the alternative to the CPUC-primarily in hearings on the future of Southern California Edison's Mohave coal plant. Political definitions of clean coal do not necessarily include a gasification process, which turns coal into gas instead of burning it directly. The reference could just as easily mean a traditional coal plant that meets the "weakened" federal pollution requirements with no carbon sequestration, according to V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. "When the coal industry says "clean coal," it really means almost-as-dirty coal. That is, we will get almost as much nitrous oxide making smog in our air, almost as much mercury contaminating our water, and about the same amount of greenhouse pollution warming the planet," said Carl Zichella, Sierra Club Western regional director. "California's leadership on global warming could be overwhelmed by new sources of carbon dioxide," Zichella added. The storm of antipathy caused by the Frontier Line announcement got a lot of people talking. While the "Million Solar" initiative could be concrete state policy, people are beginning to ask whether the state should also have a policy on imported coal with minimum standards for the imports' pollution. Should the state have a policy on polluting others' backyards in order to run air conditioners here? Should the state value in-state transmission before it lends resources to building a Western line? State law requires a minimum portion of utilities' portfolios to be green, and the CPUC requires that renewables get the first shot at new supply contracts. Even so, it is unlikely that utilities will go much beyond the mandated 20 percent renewable energy component in their portfolios. Thus, the potential for new coal-fired electricity coming into California begs the question of how dirty the remaining 75-80 percent of the portfolio will be. At this early stage of the legislative season, policy makers appeared anxious to vet energy legislation. Before the possible blackouts this summer divert their interest, discussing the implications of and setting basic social goals for an energy portfolio should become a priority. It won't cost a thing, and it will help curb resentment from other states, as well as environmental activists, in addition to helping counter a backlash against California-which loves its own clean air but appears willing to sacrifice others' environments and public health for it.