Newsom official defends climate action's local economic impacts

·3 min read

Jan. 19—In an online forum with local business leaders Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom's senior adviser on economic development defended the administration's strategy for shielding Kern from state climate policies expected to hit the county harder than anywhere else in California.

Dee Dee Myers, director of the Governor's Office of Business & Economic Development, said Newsom's proposal earlier this month for a $450 million local-government sustainability fund could help replace local property tax revenues expected to dry up as the administration pursues an anti-oil agenda on the way to statewide carbon neutrality by 2045.

The former spokeswoman for the Bill Clinton White House also highlighted the $83 million Newsom has suggested giving Cal State Bakersfield toward establishing an energy innovation center, and she brought up the administration's $600 million investment last year in a fund intended to support collaborations like Kern's B3K Prosperity initiative.

Myers sidestepped an opportunity to endorse local interest in carbon capture and sequestration, an energy-intensive means of removing or reducing greenhouse gases, and instead referred to the administration's support for renewable energy and storage projects like the many built or pending in Kern.

"Our approach at this point is all of the above," she said.

While acknowledging oil and gas has great cultural and historical significance in the county, Myers said the world's move away from oil and gas is "unavoidable and unstoppable."

Myers made the comments during an hourlong forum hosted by the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Adventist Health Bakersfield and Kaiser Permanente. Besides moderator Nick Ortiz, the chamber's president and CEO, there were two other participants: Tejon Ranch Co. President and CEO Greg Bielli and California Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Barrera.

Barrera said there was a lot for businesses to be pleased with in the governor's recent budget proposal, including reinstatement of tax relief for companies doing research and development, $3 billion toward paying off $20 billion owed by the state's unemployment insurance trust fund, small-business grants and new tax credits relating to climate change.

But with regard to the administration's approach to climate action, Barrera voiced the business community's frustrations with Newsom's prescriptive approach. She noted many in the private sector would prefer to innovate practical solutions for reducing carbon rather than being told how to proceed.

"We know California wants to be a leader," Barrera said. "But in order to be a leader, you have to do something that the rest of the (nation) will follow."

Bielli stated his support for B3K's growth mindset and collaborative nature. He also voiced his opinion that more of the state's budget surplus should be spent on water infrastructure.

On the topic of climate action, Bielli called for constructive talks such as the negotiations that preceded Tejon Ranch's conservation agreements with environmental groups. He said there was helpful give-and-take on both sides.

"I learned through those conversations," he said. "As (environmental groups) learned more about our challenges, they adapted toward us. And as we learned more about their challenges, we adapted."