After five days of diplomatic-style meetings with European leaders and their ever-present translators, Gov. Jerry Brown found a venue where people speak a common language: politics.
In a lively and frank discussion with members of the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, Brown fielded questions from elected officials who mostly praised California’s accomplishments in combating climate change and marveled at the political muscle it required. But the governor also took some heat.
Brown described the effort it took for the Legislature to reauthorize a 10-year extension of California’s cap-and-trade carbon-reduction program in July with a two-thirds vote. He said that, despite appearances, there is a great deal of complacency in the state on the issue of climate change. Cap and trade is a highly partisan subject, the governor said, yet the renewal bill passed because eight Republicans supported it.
“And one of them was voted out as a leader,” Brown said, referring to Yucca Valley Assemblyman Chad Mayes. “So I guess there’s a price to pay.”
There were a handful of impassioned challenges to Brown’s dire warnings about the danger of inaction on climate change. One member denounced the “cult of climate change” and refuted the science.
Another member, Steven Woolfe, representing the United Kingdom, mocked Brown’s “rapturous welcome” from the Parliament, then launched into a lacerating attack on California’s climate policies, which he suggested were disproportionately harming lower-income people by raising the cost of living.
Brown answered sharply, saying to the skeptics in the room, “You are dead wrong. The crocodile tears you shed for the poor are not convincing, not convincing at all.”
Woolfe shot back, “That’s disgraceful. Take that back.” (Brown didn’t.)
Woolfe, who live-tweeted during the debate, termed the exchange a “verbal dispute” and maintained that Brown’s policies had reduced 40 percent of California’s population to living in poverty. The parliamentarian is a member of Britain’s Independent Party, led by Nigel Farage, whose “Euroskepticism” drove the vote for the country to leave the European Union.
The question-and-answer session morphed into a couple of hours in which members picked Brown’s political brain, seeking practical solutions to what some Europeans consider to be intractable problems. In particular, policymakers are wrestling with the question of how to reduce automobile emissions and encourage adoption of electric vehicles.
Claude Turmes, a member from Luxembourg, brought up to the inability of the Parliament to develop a meaningful framework of fines for damaging emissions but have been experiencing pushback from automobile manufacturers. Turmes was referring to the large fine levied on German car maker Volkswagen, for installing devices to defeat emission tests. California received more than $1 billion in a settlement.
“We have a car industry problem; can you give us some advice,” Turmes said. “What is the trick to work with the car lobby? You must have a trick.”
Brown replied: “It’s easy; we fine German car makers. They don’t vote.”