Jerry Brown: Another Energy Conflict of Interest

Jerry Brown climate change (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)
Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

The web of potential conflicts of interest associated with Jerry Brown widened with news that the California governor’s sister is a paid board member of America’s largest natural gas utility--which is leaking 500,000 metric tons of CO2 a month.

Southern California Gas Company has been under relentless attack by environmentalists and Governor Brown since one of their natural gas storage wells at Porter Ranch leaked 6,500 tons of methane–equalling over a ton of CO2 emissions.

Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that the cost of lost gas from the seepage 8,700-feet-below-ground, which has caused 3,000 people to move into temporary housing, could equal $1 billion. The deep underground broken pipe casing has had a documented leak rate of 132,000 pounds of stored natural gas an hour since its discovery on October 23.

The daily release from the well is equal to about a quarter of California’s daily statewide methane emissions from agricultural and industrial releases, or the equivalent greenhouse gas discharged from half a million cars, according to Bloomberg.

Residents in Los Angeles County’s Porter Ranch have been complaining about all the symptoms of methane poisoning, including headaches; heart palpitations; cognitive impairment; dizziness; loss of motor coordination and flu-like symptoms.

But California State public-health officials have inexplicably not declared a crisis, despite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanding immediate action. Both the state and EPA know methane has other risks, such as being extremely flammable and explosive, and also can cause death by asphyxiation in homes and work places.

The issue escalated on December 15, when the Los Angeles County and the City and School Boards declared a “state of emergency” that covers the massive Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch neighborhoods. The resolutions also demand closing at least two schools in the Porter Ranch neighborhood.

The Associated Press over the weekend reported that Governor Brown’s sister, Kathleen L. Brown, a lawyer and former California State Treasurer and Democratic candidate for Governor in the 1990s, has been serving since 2013 as a Director on Sempra Energy, the parent and 100 percent stockholder of the Gas Company, according to Security & Exchange Commission filings.

Kathleen Brown owns over $400,000 in Sempra Energy’s stock and is receiving $188,380 a year in salary to serve on Sempra’s Environmental, Health, Safety and Technology and Corporate Governance committees. That means the Governor’s sister is at the center risk for managing the raging ecological and healthcare disaster.

The Brown family has been deeply involved in the energy business ever since former governor Pat Brown gained 100 percent ownership of the California brokerage and half-ownership of the Hong Kong office that held exclusive rights to fees on all Indonesian oil imported into the U.S.

Jerry Brown received his 27 percent cut of the family oil business trust when he left office as Governor in 1983, according to Sacramento Bee reporter Dan Walters.

Breitbart News noted that despite Governor Brown’s tirades against fossil fuels at the recent UN climate change conference in Paris, Jerry Brown has been very supportive of the California oil industry while Governor.

Brown pushed through and signed pro-fracking legislation in late 2013, known as Senate Bill 4. He has also quietly accepted $1.72 million in political donations over the past several years from oil and natural gas interests to his statewide political campaigns for attorney general and governor, along with his Proposition 30 ballot-measure campaign in 2012.

The revelation that Kathleen Brown is a major player in the managing the Sempra gas leak set off howls from environmental activists that Governor Brown has a major “conflict of interest” and should recuse himself from all decision making on the issue.

The Associated Press reported that New York-based citizens’ oversight group, Public Accountability Initiative, faulted the Governor for not earlier admitting his sister’s controlling role in the crisis. “It is a conflict of interest and it’s a conflict of interest that needs to be managed transparently and openly,” said PAI director Kevin Connor.

The Gas Company is drilling a “relief well” to bypass the broken section of pipe casing. But it could take another three months to complete drilling and cut the gas flow.

By that time, the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility could release another 10,000 tons of methane and another 1.5 tons of CO2 emissions.


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