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Jul 26, 2004 - 03:15 PM
Itís a Junket, Mateby Douglas Heller
What would you call an all-expenses paid eleven day excursion to Australia and South Korea? Throw in a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Three nights in the Four Seasons Hotel of Sydney. And a yacht trip. If you just happen to be one of the top bureaucrats working for Arnold, you call it a junket. Four top level appointees of the gov -- Cabinet Secretary Marybel Batjer, Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman, CalEPA Secretary Terry Taminen and Deputy Secretary of Energy Joe Desmond -- just returned from this very trip, thanks to the energy industry funded California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE). Click here to read their itinerary at Political Pulse online.
The trip, officially to educate attendees about the use of the very controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an energy source, served as a fantastic summer vacation and 11-day private lobbying meeting for the CFEE board members on the trip, all of whom happen to work for big energy companies: ChevronTexaco, Shell, Calpine, Sempra, So Cal Edison and BHP Billiton International LNG, Inc.
Oh, and they are also big contributors to Arnold. ChevronTexaco, Calpine, Sempra and Edison made more than a quarter million dollars ($256,200) in campaign contributions to the Governor.
The energy companies are trying to convince the Gov that they should be allowed to build LNG terminals up and down the coast of California. The industry is spending so lavishly in this lobbying effort because LNG is controversial for good reason. LNG could devastate the population for miles around if ignited. In this age of red and orange alerts, such a terminal is considered a prime target for attack. (A non-terror LNG explosion in Algeria this year killed dozens of people.) LNG terminals are also so costly to build and secure, the state would have to commit to using a lot of natural gas in the future to make LNG cost-effective. But to make such a natural gas commitment will dampen the prospect of diversifying the state's energy sources, particularly limiting the financial resources available to dedicate toward renewable and ultra-clean energy systems.
Companies like Calpine and Sempra are so invested in a natural gas future that they will go to whatever lengths -- like a chartered flight around Western Australia -- to convince Arnold and his crew to join their side in the LNG debate.
But if Arnold is, as he says, for the public interest and not the special interest, then he will not allow his staff to be flown around the world by special interests. If the Gov. really thought this excursion was a wise use of government time, then the government should repay the energy group for the officials' trip. Better still, because its itinerary was clearly not constructed with budget crisis frugality in mind, Arnold should use his own campaign contributions to repay CFEE. (That quarter of a million in campaign contributions from ChevronTexaco and the others will come in handy.)
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