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Brown calls California a model of energy efficiency; Calls for R&D tax breaks

By Staff reports | Aug 16, 2008

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)--California Attorney General Jerry Brown told Legal Newsline he believes America needs an efficiency expert.

In a wide-ranging interview Friday, Brown said the United States must reduce its dependency on foreign oil, which would save billions of dollars through increasing energy efficiencies.

"There is massive gain to be realized from efficiency," Brown said in between bites of a lunchtime sandwich on Friday, "but the federal government has been asleep. California has proven you can save billions of dollars. And it's criminal the way the federal government has ignored its leadership in this area."

Earlier this week, Brown took a challenge from the editors of The Wall Street Journal, writing a piece on how he would invest $10 billion in the next four years to save the country.

Brown, a Democrat, touted the need to prioritize greater efficiency, from the cars we drive to the new buildings we construct, to the money we invest in research and development.

Brown wrote he would spend the $10 billion and "invest it in curbing our energy appetite through efficiency programs and incentives" that would in effect reduce our dependency on oil, gas and coal.

Brown said the article was more than just an exercise, but an essential need for the future.

"We are talking about new kinds of engines and designs on everything from refrigerators to automobiles," Brown told LNL. "We want to kick-start technology so we can get more efficient."

The model of success for the county, Brown said, is California, where the state has kept electrical consumption flat for the past quarter of a century and where plans to increase energy efficiency are a fabric of future planning.

In April, Brown sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission commenting on its plans to craft a statewide energy efficiency program for 2009-2020. Brown offered a number of programs that could increase energy savings, including incentives for lighter-colored roofs, energy reduction where the demand is highest, on-bill financing programs that promote improvements to current buildings, grants for retro-commissions of existing buildings and discount cards for energy efficient appliances.

Brown said the nation simply must catch up to the gains made by California, and must include a far greater investment in research and development.

"I want the R&D to be equal to the problem," Brown said. "We need to renew the tax credits and expand those programs we have in place. Increase the efficiency of automobiles much more quickly."

Alternative energy development has its place, Brown said, but the priority should be efficiency.

"The more humble opportunity is efficiency where you can get more savings," Brown said. "We need to reduce foreign oil dependency right now."

As for the cost of these programs, Brown said it's a matter of re-allocating resources.

"How do we afford to buy the foreign oil?" he asked rhetorically. "The fact is we can't afford not to. That is why efficiencies are critical."

He said the federal government has failed to address these problems, choosing instead to ignore them. He added it is time for the country as a whole to start listening more. When asked how much stock he put into Peak Oil theories - a belief that the world has reached the peak of its oil production and will soon face severe shortages - Brown said it's better to think ahead than remain skeptical.

"(Peak Oil) is certainly a risk," Brown said. "If you totally ignore it you'll be caught with your pants down it will be pretty bad. So you have to pay attention. Oil is going to get harder to get and more expensive. That's a fact."

On a lawsuit Brown has threatened to file against Nestle over its plans to build a water production plant in the remote mountain town of McCloud at the base of Mount Shasta in Northern California, Brown said the project doesn't make sense.

For the project, Nestle, the nation's largest bottled water company, plans to draw nearly half a billion gallons of water from the McCloud River each year. Brown said this type of waste is an example of the types of changes Americans must embrace.

"We take our pristine waters and cart them off to Maine or someplace," Brown said. "It's like carrying coal to Newcastle, or ice to Alaska. It represents a level of waste that, at least, ought to be acknowledged. Hopefully, consumers will find more efficient ways to hydrate."

Brown's push for energy efficiency dates back to his earliest years in public office, when he first served as California's governor in the late 1970s to the early 1980s.

As Oakland's mayor, Brown sought to reduce the city's power consumption by 10 percent. In his tenure as attorney general he has brought several lawsuits aimed at forcing compliance with the state's goal to drastically reduce emissions, lower greenhouse gasses and increase energy efficiency.

"America must take the lead in dealing with global energy and climate challenges," Brown wrote in his Wall Street Journal piece, "and at the same time vastly strengthen its own economy and security."

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Organizations in this Story

California Public Utilities CommissionWall Street Journal