in Indonesia, USA

California Governor Jerry Brown’s sticky links to the oil industry

Last week, Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Governor of California, Jerry Brown reacted swiftly on a press call organised by the World Resources Institute. Brown called Trump’s decision “tragic”, “wrong”, “misguided”, “insane”, and “deviant behaviour”.

Here’s Governor Brown’s response in full:

Well, today’s announcement is tragic in a fundamental way. But it’s also, I guess, to be expected, given the words of Donald Trump these last several months.

Look, Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course. He’s wrong on the facts. California’s economy and America’s economy are boosted by following the Paris Agreement. No place is more aggressive in climate action than California.

We have 27% renewable energy. We have a goal of 50% renewable electricity by 2030. We have a zero emissions mandate for vehicles that will continue to increase. We’re hoping for one-and-a-half million electric vehicles by 2030. We have tough energy efficiency and tough appliance standards. We have a cap and trade programme. We are all in.

And the California economy last year increased 40% faster than the rest of the country. So, in fact, following policies even tougher, than what Paris is calling for, the economy is boosted. So Trump is wrong when he says this is bad for jobs. It’s good for jobs, for jobs of the future.

He’s wrong on the science. All the scientific academies of the major countries support the science behind the Paris Agreement. California will resist, because his effort is misguided.

I would even say this is an insane move by this president.

The world depends on a sustainable future. He’s going the other way. It’s going to affect people’s health, the stability of countries, our entire future.

So, yes this is bad, it’s tragic, but out of that tragedy, I believe, America and the rest of the world will mobilise, will galvanise our efforts, and in fact Trump may well create the exact opposite of what he intended. And that is an aroused citizenry in America and aroused nations of the world who will not tolerate this kind of deviant behaviour from the highest office in the land.

California, we’re all in. We’re on the field ready for battle. Though our president may be AWOL in the battle against climate change, we’re not.

Powerful stuff, eh? Brown is right, of course. Donald Trump is mad as a sack of ferrets. Certainly when it comes to climate change.

The day after denouncing Trump, Brown flew to China, to “strengthen California’s long-standing climate, clean energy and economic ties with the nation”. Here are just some of the headlines that this trip generated:

Is Brown really a climate leader?

While Brown has convinced a large part of the media that he’s a climate leader, not everyone agrees.

Journalist Dan Bacher, for example. In an article last week on Daily Kos, Bacher gives Brown a list of ten actions he can take to become a green governor. Bacher writes that,

He’s a political genius when it comes to working media, since he’s convinced much of the state, national and international media that he’s a “climate leader” and “green governor” at the same time he oversees some of the most environmentally devastating policies of any governor in recent California history.

If Brown really cared about climate change, green energy, the environment and the people of California and the planet, he would take a number of urgently-needed actions, rather than just issue constant statements and proclamations about how “green” his administration is.

Last year, Consumer Watchdog revealed that Brown has taken US$9.85 million from oil and energy companies:

Here’s just one example from Consumer Watchdog’s report:

At the end of December 2013, three months after weakened fracking legislation was chaptered, Chevron donated $350,000 to the Democratic Party. One week later, the party donated $300,000 to Brown for Governor 2014, while Chevron donated $54,400 to the campaign that day — the maximum amount allowed. Weeks later, Brown came out against an oil severance tax, or well-head tax, that would have produced billions for the state’s coffers. Chevron had long opposed the tax.

Jerry Brown’s ties with the oil industry go back a long way. His family’s ties go back even further.

The Brown family and the Indonesian military dictatorship

Brown’s father, Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown Sr. was Governor of California for nine years from 1959. After losing to Ronald Reagan in 1967, Pat Brown went into private law practice.

Veteran California journalist Dan Walters has reported on the Brown family’s links with Indonesia’s military dictatorship under President Suarto.

Pat Brown became an adviser to Indonesia’s military officers, who were running the country after the 1965 coup. Up to one million “communist sympathisers” were murdered after the coup, as General Suharto started his 32-year-long dictatorship.

One of Brown’s clients was Pertamina, the state-owned oil and gas monopoly.

Indonesia’s generals set up two trading firms, one in Hong Kong and one in California. These companies handled Pertamina’s paperwork, and took a fee for each barrel exported. Pat Brown owned the California firm, and 50% of the Hong Kong firm.

In 1975, Jerry Brown was elected governor of California. By this time, Pertamina was almost bankrupt. Despite having made a fortune during the oil boom in the early 1970s, the Pertamina crisis was the result of business miscalculation, billions of dollars of debt, and corruption on a massive scale.

In 1990, Walters wrote that the arrangements with Pertamina “helped build [Pat] Brown’s fortune during the 1970s and 1980s”. Jerry Brown’s connections in the administration came in useful:

California’s Air Resources Board, then chaired by Jerry Brown’s closest political strategist, Tom Quinn, adopted new requirements for the sulfur content of fuel oil that had the effect of requiring oil-burning power plants to continue using low-sulfur Indonesian oil, rather than switching to Alaskan oil as they planned. Simultaneously, the state Energy Commission, headed by another close Brown political aide, Richard Maullin, was pushing utilities to burn oil rather than shift to other fuels.

The Browns also pushed for the construction of a US$700 million gas terminal:

Both the elder and the younger Browns pushed hard for a building a terminal in Southern California to import liquefied natural gas from Indonesia to California. The project would have relieved Pertamina’s serious money problems, and indirectly bailed out the big U.S. banks that had loaned Pertamina billions of dollars.

The LNG terminal was planned for Point Conception, a sacred site for the Chumash Native American people. The Chumash occupied the site in protest against Brown’s proposals. One of the Chumash, Kote-Lotan, told the Washington Post in 1978 that,

“We’ve all been coming here since we were kids. We used to go clamming, abalone fishing here. This has always been one of our most spiritual sites, the western gate for all souls. They made a real mistake trying to take on the native people here – we’re going to stay here if it takes the rest of my life.”

In 1982, the LNG terminal project was quietly shelved.

Walters wrote that Jerry Brown “angrily denied” any suggestions of a conflict of interest in his actions as governor that benefited Pertamina and the Indonesian military dictatorship.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series of posts and interviews about California’s cap-and-trade scheme, with funding from Friends of the Earth US. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

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  1. I’m not surprised that Brown has fed the hand that feeds him politically. Every politician in the U.S. has done the same quid pro quo; if they haven’t then they weren’t elected. Even Bernie has had is miscues. But Brown remains the most progressive governor in the country, and a commited leader. Any condemnation of him or any other politician has to include criticism of our electoral system of privately financed political campaigns. We need extreme limits on lobbying and public financing of the political campaigns, and opening the system up to third party participation.

  2. @Bruce Rodgers – Thanks for this comment. You’re probably right that I should have criticised the US electoral system and the influence of the oil industry (and other corporations). Brown may be the most progressive governor in the country, but that doesn’t change the fact that his policies are influenced by the oil industry. Regardless of all other considerations, that’s a serious problem.

    Dan Bacher’s list of ten actions that Brown could take if he really wanted to be a green governor started with this:

    (1) Sign the pledge, initiated by the Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party, to no longer take Big Oil and fossil fuel money.