mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author

mark


Terry Firma

(Mark Hertsgaard) I want to start by asking how you got this job,
because some of the initial press reports got it wrong. The story was
that Bobby Kennedy Jr. called the governor and said, This is the guy
you’ve got to have. But in fact you’ve had a long relationship with
the governor and first lady. Can you tell our readers what really
happened — how somebody who used to be an aspiring Shakespearean
actor, a pool cleaner, and who ran BayKeeper, an environmental group
in Los Angeles …

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(Terry Tamminen) And ran sheep ranches and real estate in Florida — a
jack of all trades, master of none …

… how you got this job?

When the (California gubernatorial) campaign came about, I was running
a foundation called Environment Now. I saw there was a need for all of
the candidates to have solid facts about California’s environment, and
our foundation offered it to all the candidates. But because I knew
the governor and Maria (Shriver, his wife), I made a special effort to
reach out to him and say, If you want this information, I’m happy to
provide it. And he said, Come on in, let’s have lunch and talk about
it. This was two days after he’d announced. His kids were still out
of school at that time, so we met at his office in Santa Monica with
his kids there taking pizza off of our plates. We talked about
everything from air pollution to global warming, invasive species,
forestry issues — you name it. Over the next couple of days, we kept
discussing his philosophy, what direction he wanted to see the state
go, and started to evolve that into an environmental action plan.

You knew him originally through the Bobby Kennedy Riverkeeper
connection?

Actually not. (Schwarzenegger) has been involved in a lot of
charitable activities in Southern California, and over the years we’ve
been at different things related to the environment, but also Jewish
causes. Obviously the connection with BayKeeper through Bobby Kennedy
was to Maria Shriver. And then we have another close mutual friend,
Bonnie Reiss, who was the founder of Earth Communications, and she’s
now a senior adviser to him. And my wife, Karen Borell, signed his
last movie. She’s a theatrical rep at Screen Actors Guild and signed
the contracts that literally allowed him to go to work on his own
movie.

How much staff and resources do you have here at Cal/EPA?

This budget year, we have 4,275 employees and a budget of roughly a
billion dollars.

And your basic portfolio is water, air, toxics …

And solid waste and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard
Assessment and pesticides.

How do you feel about holding what is arguably the most powerful
environmental job in the United States outside the Beltway?

What’s powerful? Powerful is results. With air quality, for years we
had been making good, steady progress. Now, in the last four or five
years, we’re going backwards: to stage-one smog alerts, to
non-attainment of federal ozone standards and particulate matter. So
there are very troubling signs on the horizon, especially as we try to
accommodate the state’s growth. Power is success. If we set some goals
and achieve them, that’s power.

In terms of California’s role as a trendsetter, the governor has
mentioned AB 1493. That is our greenhouse-gas bill with respect to
cars, which he intends to defend in court if need be, because there’ve
been some rumblings about challenges (from auto companies). We’re
doing our best to work with the stakeholders to avoid that, so we get
implementation and actual CO2 reductions rather than just go to
battle. His friend (New York Gov. George) Pataki (R) has literally
told him they are waiting to see how it plays out so they can adopt it
in New York. Other states are looking to do the same. I just got back
from Australia and England, where they’re also looking to copy what
we’re doing.

The greenhouse-gas law would establish a 30 percent reduction in CO2
emissions. Will the governor stand behind that number?

Absolutely. Of course we’re waiting for the final report to come out
and there will be opportunity for public comment. But whatever gets
adopted by the (California Air Resources) Board as technologically
feasible, the governor has stated he will defend.

Where is the erosion of air quality coming from and what are your
plans for attacking it?

(We have) 36 million people and our population is growing by almost
600,000 every year. We have 30 million motorized vehicles in the
state, almost one per person. And the vehicles in showrooms today have
worse fuel economy than in 1987. So if you have more vehicles that are
less fuel-efficient, that results in more consumption and more air
pollution.

On my way into the building today, I picked up downstairs the bumper
stickers that say, Don’t Be Fuelish.

That’s a whole campaign we’ll be rolling out over the next month.
People will be seeing these messages at gas stations, teaching them
how to conserve as much as 20 percent of their fuel regardless of what
they drive. In the mid-term, we’re working to get more fuel-efficient
vehicles into the fleet. The state (government) itself has 70,000
vehicles. As the natural turnover occurs, we’re going to get more
hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles into that fleet and then promote
them for personal and business choices as well.

As an example, right behind your head is a box of clean air that was
presented to me by FedEx at an event the governor and I did to promote
their diesel-electric hybrids, which save 50 percent of the fuel and
reduce air emissions by a similar amount. They have pledged to convert
their entire fleet and we’re trying to get them to be a model for
others. And all of this is as a bridge to truly clean fuels, and
that’s hydrogen.

Isn’t it hard for the governor to ask people to be more sensitive
about this when he drives a Hummer?

Sure, sure. He’s very aware of that. What people don’t know, because
his screen persona is macho and Hummers and blowing things up, (is
that) he also has an electric car. And since he began campaigning for
governor, he’s never been in a car that hasn’t been a car pool. I
mean, he’s probably the most fuel-efficient person in California.

Is he going to get rid of the Hummer?

Well, stay tuned. He’s going to do something with the Hummer that ties
into a campaign promise, let’s just put it that way.

One rumor is that he’s going to try to adapt the Hummer to run on
hydrogen.

Hybrid hydrogen, that’s what his campaign pledge was, and I’ll just
say, the governor always keeps his promises.

On hydrogen, you must know that some knowledgeable environmentalists
have said that this is a crazy idea — that it may sound good out on
the campaign trail, but using hydrogen to fuel cars is a misallocation
of resources, because the hydrogen won’t be produced renewably. It
will be produced from natural gas, which could be used more
efficiently to phase out coal-fired power plants.

First of all, if we’re not going to evolve to hydrogen, what then?
Even the most optimistic futurists don’t think we have more than 40
years, 50 tops, of our oil future. And with car companies investing
heavily in China and India, where a middle class is now coming into
existence that can afford cars, they’re going to be using fuel at a
prodigious rate. So we’re going to be running out very shortly in real
terms, and we’ve got to plan what’s next and get it commercialized.

Experts assume we won’t move to hydrogen until it’s cost competitive
with $2-a-gallon gasoline. But gasoline doesn’t cost $2 a gallon when
you factor in all of the externalities: the tax breaks to the oil
industry, the health-care costs. In California alone, the
(externalities) cost is anywhere from $20 billion to $50 billion a
year, depending on whether you include productivity losses as well.
And when you consider that we’ve also run out of refinery capacity,
we’re going to be seeing $5-a-gallon gasoline in the very near future.

$5-a-gallon gasoline? When?

If you look at the AB 2076 report, which you can download from the
California Energy Commission, we may see
shortages in the next three to five years, and that in turn will drive
prices up. And that’s assuming no terrorism or mechanical upsets in
the meantime.

What makes you and Gov. Schwarzenegger think you can make this
hydrogen plan work?

The science is there. The only challenge that people who are engaged
in this every day see is (the question of) the chicken or the egg:
Who’s going to invest in fueling stations if there’s not enough
vehicles, or who’s going to produce vehicles if there’s inadequate
fueling stations? (Our) hydrogen highway concept (starts with)
bringing together all the different players who are working on this.
There’s billions of dollars on the table — all the energy companies
and car companies and the Ballards and Praxairs of the world. We want
to bring them together in the same room and have everyone put their
chips on the map, in a literal sense: Where are you going to put your
stations and by when? And then ask the car companies, If we can have
200 stations in California by 2010, what kind of vehicles could you
start delivering? And what by 2012 and 2015? Let’s start blueprinting
this so we all have some predictability to the process. A blueprint
(will be delivered) to the governor by January 2005 with all the
specifics.

It seems like a lot of your focus is on private vehicles and not so
much on mass transit. Is that accurate?

I wouldn’t say so. The emphasis is on private vehicles because
California has so many. But the governor pledged a three-part program
on mass transit.

The first thing is just putting more butts into mass transit through
simple fixes that make mass transit easier. For example, there’s heavy
rail between L.A. and Santa Barbara but no commuter service, so the
only way you can go from Santa Barbara to L.A. is on the 101
(freeway), which is terribly clogged on Sunday afternoons and every
day during the commute. If we can get some Metrolink service on that
existing rail line, we can get thousands of people out of their cars
and put them on rail. We’re doing an inventory right now to find all
that low-hanging fruit, and within a couple of years, (we’ll) get
those kinds of projects up and running.

The mid-term goal is to finish projects like the rail line that right
now ends a mile short of Oakland Airport or a quarter mile short of
(Los Angeles International Airport) — some of these silly things
where you have good mass transit but it isn’t connected.

Let’s talk about water, which has always been so central to the
history of California. I assume you know the study by the Department
of Energy that says California will double its water demand by 2025
but have less supply, because global warming will bring more rain and
less snow, which in turn will lead to flooding in the winter but less
water available in the summer, when demand is highest. What do you
plan to do about this challenge?

We haven’t begun to do what we need to do with conservation and ground
storage and reuse. Right now, we send billions of gallons of water
every day from Northern California to the south, do various things
with it, and then throw it out into the Pacific Ocean. If a visitor
from Mars came down and looked at this system, he’d think we were
crazy. We know that the 350 million gallons a day that the Hyperion
Sewage Treatment Plant by itself dumps into the Pacific Ocean is a
resource we should be using. In Los Angeles County, the population has
grown 15 percent in the last 15 years but water use has grown 0
percent because of an aggressive conservation campaign. We’ve got to
take those lessons on the road.

How?

First, by getting other cities to adopt similar approaches. One of the
most effective things in Los Angeles was passing an ordinance that
says when a building changes hands, you have to put in low-flow
toilets and showerheads. So it doesn’t create a burden immediately,
it’s when you change hands and you’re upgrading anyway. We’re working
with the Farm Bureau and other industry-specific agricultural leaders
on laser-leveling and drip irrigation. Our sustainability program at
Cal/EPA has developed a set of standards for the wine industry that is
now being widely adopted. Silicon Valley is another sector that has
committed to water reduction, electricity reduction, and global
greenhouse-gas reduction.

One last question: This is such a different agenda than the Republican
president of the United States has followed. And Schwarzenegger has
stood up on a number of environmental issues and said to the White
House, We’re not with you on this. Do you expect further divergences
with the White House, and is there any way the governor can help the
president get some religion on this?

All I can tell you is that the governor is single-mindedly focused on
protecting California and its resources and making this a state we’re
happy to pass on to our kids. Where we diverge on federal policy,
we’ve tried to work with the federal government, and we’ll continue to
do that. If you go back through the history of the Clinton
administration, California didn’t always agree with everything that
came out of that administration. So I’m not going to start pointing
fingers. We have to do what’s right for the state and future
generations, and we will.

Nice dodge. (Laughter) Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.

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