For many months, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has portrayed himself as the world’s leading environmental activist, proposing clean fuel standards and trumpeting a call for the rest of the nation and the world to pass laws like California’s new greenhouse gas standards, adopted last year.
But as with all politicians, it’s wisest to watch what he does and not what he says. It can also be helpful to watch what his surrogates and appointees do.
So it was the other day in Oxnard, where more than 3,000 local residents turned out in a sea of deep blue “Terminate the Terminal” t-shirts urging the state Lands Commission to turn down a proposal for a gigantic liquefied natural gas import terminal on a floating platform 14 miles off the Ventura County coast. This has been billed for years as the cleanest of all possible LNG projects.
Nix it the commission did, denying the lease needed to run high-pressure pipelines across state tidelands. Short of a major revision, only the courts can now revive the plan.
LNG is natural gas drilled in remote parts of the world, cooled to a sub-freezing liquid, shipped long distances by tanker and then warmed back into a gaseous state at its destination.
Schwarzenegger doesn’t sit on the Lands Commission, his aides correctly point out. But his finance director does, along with state controller John Chiang and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, the commission chairman by virtue of his elected office. Current state finance director Mike Genest does not usually attend commission meetings, sending his own deputy, Anne Sheehan, as a surrogate.
Schwarzenegger is Sheehan’s boss’s boss. So in fact her vote belongs to the governor.
She cast it emphatically in favor of the LNG plant, whose environmental impact report said it would produce more than 60 tons of “reactive organic compounds” yearly. That’s another term for carbon dioxide, the leading culprit among the greenhouse gases Schwarzenegger so likes to decry.
So in the same week that the governor was off to Washington and New York to speak of his dedicated opposition to greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions, his chosen representative on the Lands Commission voted to okay the largest greenhouse gas-producing project proposed in California in the last 15 years.
Watch out, British Conservative Party. You’ve bought his line and invited Arnold to speak on this issue at your annual conference, but does the governor really mean what he says?
His aides say yes. “Any reasonable person will be hard-pressed to show he has not walked the walk as an environmentalist,” said Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear the morning after the vote. McLear then emailed a three-page list of the governor’s environmental actions. “Anne Sheehan was voting for this just to further the review process along, so it could reach the governor. Her vote is in no way indicative of what the governor will do if he ever has to approve this or disapprove it.”
But that can’t erase what surrogate Sheehan said just before the Lands Commission voted on the planned LNG project. “I work for a governor who has backed a solar energy initiative and fights greenhouse gases,” she said. “I understand the local concerns, but we need to think of the other 36 million Californians who need to turn on their lights. If we stop this now, we signal we do not want LNG in our future.”
Of course, that was precisely the message the two elected members of the commission wanted to send.
Said Garamendi, who has run twice for governor, “LNG does not fill any immediate need that has been proven. The natural gas pipelines coming into California now have excess capacity and everything we know indicates there will be adequate supplies for decades. We could only okay this project if there were an overriding need, but the environmental impact report on this project says there may be 18 options for new energy other than LNG.”
Even so, Schwarzenegger issued a statement within minutes of the vote affirming that “I do believe LNG should be a part of California’s energy portfolio.”
But the only way to get it here is via importing terminals that can’t help producing vast amounts of carbon dioxide gas. So it’s essentially not possible to be for LNG and against greenhouse gases at the same time.
Which makes some see Schwarzenegger as a greenhouse gas hypocrite of the highest order who tries to hide it by claiming he has so far taken no position on any specific LNG plan – even though his surrogate has.
In fact, his surrogate’s vote means he’s already taken a position on global warming, and not the one he wants his sycophantic admirers to understand.