May 4, 2004 - From the November, 2003 issue

New Cal EPA Chief Tamminen On Schwarzenegger's Environmental Agenda

While many have debated the positive contributions made by the Davis Administration to California's future, few would argue that Davis failed to have an impact on the state's environmental preservation. Locally, one need not look further than the recent purchases of Ahmanson Ranch and the Ballona Wetlands as significant components of Davis' legacy. Nevertheless, Governor Schwarzenegger has made significant statements and promises regarding his enviornmental agenda and aims to pick up where Davis left off. To address the transition in California's environmental policy, MIR is pleased to present this interview with Terry Tamminen, Governor Schwarzenegger's appointee as Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Executive Director of Environment Now.

Terry Tamminen

Terry, with Governor Schwarzenegger taking office November 17th, what change, if any, will there be in the state's environmental policy? How bi-partisan and inclusive will the administration be?

People are going to be very surprised by this governor in a lot of ways. He really means what he says about bi-partisanship and inclusiveness, and it's already evident in the transition. The policy groups that are meeting are soliciting and obtaining advice from the broadest possible constituency and from across the political spectrum. In terms of the environment, we have put together an advisory team to help us work on policy and implementation strategies that really include all of the stakeholders in an unprecedented manner. That's a reflection of the governor-elect's own philosophy about getting people to the table and finding common ground. This is something that many politicians talk about, but I think he's got the opportunity to deliver on that promise.

In terms of the policies themselves, he was very proactive during the campaign. The first detailed policy statement that he issued was his Environmental Action Plan, which laid out his environmental policy. All Californians should take heart from that to realize how important the environment is to him.

Last month MIR carried an interview with Mary Nichols, Secretary of Resources under Gov. Davis re the latter's environmental legacy. How much of Governor Davis' environmental work do you believe will survive? What new directions and environmental initiatives do you foresee eminating from the Schwarzenegger administration?

Certainly, the systems that aren't broken don't need fixing. But, there are certainly some systems in place that have the appearance of working, and in my view, are not working. The initial focus of the governor-elect's Environmental Action Plan is on air quality. Despite a lot of policy action during the 90s, air quality has not improved. Having four children of his own, and having worked with inner-city children and kids with after-school programs, the governor-elect has seen the effect that air quality has on young people. He realizes that the quality of life in California is affected more by air pollution than probably any other environmental factor and that we really have to get a handle on that. So one main difference in this administration will be an emphasis on more measurable action with respect to air quality.

Secondly, there will be a strong focus on innovation. We are not going to drill our way out of energy or environmental problems. But, we certainly can innovate our way out of them. Some of the initiatives, the Hydrogen Highway Plan for example, we all recognize will take many years to have a significant impact on the energy balance or air quality. But if we don't take aggressive steps to get us started now, then even ten years from now it won't be making a contribution. So you're going to see an emphasis on jump starting both environmental solutions and the economy, where that makes sense. Finding applications for hydrogen and renewable energy technology will be two of those areas.

Environment Now, which you have directed with much distinction, focuses on water quality, our coast and natural habitat. What can we expect from the new governor's administration that reflects the work that was so capably advanced by Environment Now?

The governor-elect has made it clear that he supports a strong and independent coastal commission, which certainly is a linchpin to a lot of the issues we care about in terms of development, which then has an impact on water quality and habitat and wetlands and so forth. In the Environmental Action Plan, the very last section, which puts an exclamation point on the entire Action Plan, is enforcement. It's crucial to enforce the environmental laws that we have on the books, both with respect to maintaining air and water quality and also to maintaining a level playing field for a healthy economy. It certainly is not fair to have some businesses spend money to protect the environment and comply with those laws and then have other businesses not doing the same thing, and therefore having a competitive advantage. So I would expect that the appropriate agencies within state government would emphasize environmental law enforcement.

Terry, many moderate Republicans and environmentalists hope the Schwarzenegger governorship will set a new tone in the Republican party, one that isn't as adversarial towards the environment as is the Bush Administration. Is that a fair expectation? What might be a middle ground that the governor-elect could pursue with the federal administration on clean air, water and forest management?

In some areas there is middle ground. Gov-elect Schwarzenegger made it clear in the Environmental Action Plan that sometimes there may not be middle ground, and that he has to do what's right for California. In that regard, he has certainly staked out some positions that he will not compromise on. For example in the forestry arena, the Sierra Nevada Framework is a management plan that's the result of 17 total years of efforts and $20 million of taxpayer money to try to get the science right and to come up with a eco-system management plan that has been hailed as a model for ecosystem management around the country. The Bush administration has unilaterally announced plans to essentially triple logging in parts of the Sierra without going back to that process and that document. The governor-elect has made it clear that when you have something that is the result of so much work by so many people that, at a minimum, if you're going to change it, you need to go back to that process.

In other areas, such as CO2 regulation and new source review, he's made it clear that California may have to go its own way. So in some instances, he is going to simply take a strong California centrist position. But, as he said and I said during the campaign, as a moderate Republican and a consensus builder, his administration will have a much better shot than the Davis administration of negotiating compromises that actually work for California with the federal government. So I'm very hopeful that where we do have disconnects between the state and federal government on policy, that we can use his bully pulpit to try to reconcile those.


What's likely to be the new administration's policy re the Cal-Fed process?

In the Action Plan, the governor-elect supports CalFed and calls on the federal government to make good on their pledge to fully fund it. Gov-elect Schwarzenegger recently sent a letter to Senator Feinstein offering support for her effort to get CalFed fully funded. So he's a solid believer in the CalFed process and feels that it's unfortunate that it has not been adequately funded to achieve its mandate.

The Colorado-IID deal is now apparently done, but implementation and precedent remain less clear. As the state grows from 34 million to 50 million in the next 15 years, what's likely to be the governor's attitude to water marketing, transfers and appropriate charges for delivery of water across the Delta?

First of all, the governor-elect is very aware of the need to conserve water, realizing that it's obviously a very precious resource and there are a lot of competitive demands on it. He's also aware that in situations like the Colorado-IID deal, there are a lot of consequences to a transfer. A lot of farming communities are going to be changed demonstrably, and ways of life are going to be changed-it's not just a matter of buying and selling an abstract commodity. So he's very aware that these kinds of deals have impacts, and that you have to think about those and try to help mitigate those.

He's also very aware that there are a lot of opportunities to develop water in the state that really haven't been explored or utilized, despite some interesting demonstration projects. For example, more attention should be paid to the work that TreePeople is doing in Los Angeles to literally remodel communities by taking taxpayer dollars that might be used to just line more storm drains and send polluted water out to the ocean and instead finding ways to infiltrate that back into the ground or capture and utilize that water locally so that it reduces demand. But he's also aware that part of the supply equation has to do with water quality.

In sum, Gov-elect Schwarzenegger has thought a great deal, and we have talked a great deal, about the complexity of water issues. He is also very aware of the vast array of opportunities that exist to try and expand the pie by making better use of the water that we have, and wasting less of it.

Not since the Wilson Administration has there been a serious attempt at the state capitol to think about the relation between our natural resources and regional land use planning. Can we expect any interest from Governor Schwarzenegger re growth managment?

Very much so. The Environmental Action Plan describes his interest in incentivizing infill development, for example, which obviously is a key part to smart growth and to limiting sprawl. He realizes that unchecked sprawl costs the state, particularly in scarce infrastructure dollars, and that at the same time, lack of investment in the existing cities is costing us in many other ways. So in that Environmental Action Plan, he specifically calls for more work to be done on standard infill methods. Basically, he's very much aware that investing in our inner cities and trying to reduce some of the barriers to infill and help developers incentivize infill and investment in mass transit are ways to deal with some of these regional development pattern problems.

Lastly, if we interview you a year from today, how should we measure the success of the governor's environmental agenda?

Governor-elect Schwarzenegger has made it very clear that he wants action at every level of government. He has said that he wants the contents of the Action Plan to become a legacy, not just a plan. So three years from now, we should be able to put that up on the wall. Obviously, there are some very lofty goals, like reducing air pollution by 50%, which we know we're not going to achieve within three years. But, he wants to know that we've made measurable progress towards that goal and laid the foundation that will allow the goal to be achieved, whether he's still in office or not. So, I would say, follow his lead and take the Environmental Action Plan and put in up on the wall as a checklist. A year from now, we should see some measurable progress on every one of those items. He's a tough taskmaster, and I expect that anyone in his government will be held to the highest standards.


© 2023 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.