Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown strikes defiant tone: ‘California will launch its own damn satellite’

Gov. Jerry Brown, rallying a room of scientists Wednesday with his most heated rhetoric yet on the topic, suggested California would defy the federal government should President-elect Donald Trump impede the state’s efforts to thwart climate change.

“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to defend,” he said to boisterous applause at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

Brown struck a more forceful tone than he has since the election, suggesting the energy and enthusiasm in the room for him would be needed in the “battles ahead.”

“Keep it up,” Brown implored the gathering. “Don’t flag. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

At one point, Brown warned against proposed budget cuts under the new presidential administration that could effectively eliminate earth-observing satellite programs.

He reminded the scientists that he earned his nickname, Governor Moonbeam, in his first governorship for proposing that the state launch its own communications satellite, and even had an ex-astronaut on his payroll as a space adviser. “I didn’t get that moniker for nothing,” Brown said.

“And, if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” he added. “We’re going to collect that data.”

He said if the federal government “starts messing with” the state’s renowned science facilities, such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “I am the president of the Board of Regents. I am going to say, ‘Keep your hands off. That laboratory is going to pursue good science.’ 

Later, he jabbed at former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who before becoming Trump’s pick for Energy Department secretary tried to poach jobs from California. “Rick, I got some news for you,” Brown said. “California is growing a hell of a lot faster than Texas. And we’ve got more sun than you have oil.”

Lamenting the “post-fact” or “anti-fact world,” where the dire warnings of climate scientists are dismissed as speculative or even exaggerated, Brown said the “power of a few” to disrupt the world, from the environment, to nuclear weapons to global financial systems, has never been greater.

He reiterated that the threat is “far more” than one or two politicians – “we’re facing Big Oil. We’re facing big financial structures that are at odds with the survivability of our world.” He petitioned the assembled scientists, whom he called “truth seekers,” to join with attorneys to help California lead the charge.

Brown cast some in the media, including the conservative outlet Breitbart, as “clowns” for mocking state legislation regulating emissions from dairy cows and landfills as “cow farts.” Too much of the ephemeral coverage that clogs social media in bursts is “meaningless news bits” rather than “real life” and “real science,” Brown said.

He touted the state’s vehicle emissions standards, later adopted by the federal government, to argue for California’s outsized influence in the global economy.

“A lot of people say, ‘What the hell are you doing, Brown? You’re not a country,’ ” the governor said, to laughter.

“Well, judged by measures of gross domestic product of over $2.2 trillion, we’re the fifth or sixth economy in the world. And we’ve got a lot of firepower ... And we will persevere. Have no doubt about that.”

“We will set the stage. We’ll set the example,” Brown added. “And whatever Washington thinks they are doing, California is the future.”

While establishing shortly after the Nov. 8 election that California would continue to lead on environmental policy, Brown has largely resisted directly confronting Trump, favoring a more cautious approach. On Tuesday in Coronado, Brown said he believed the Republican Party’s bedrock defense of states’ rights could shield the state’s climate actions from federal reprisal.

Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College, suggested it was Trump’s selection of Perry, who is close with the fossil fuel industry and joins a Cabinet largely at odds with Brown over the environment, that spurred Brown’s heightened aggression.

“I think he’s reading the appointment as a rude gesture toward the state of California,” Pitney said, noting Perry’s job-poaching attempts. “If you are Jerry Brown, you see the Trump administration as a gusher of oil, which to him is not a good thing.”

Pitney said that had Trump not picked Perry, along with nominating Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, “Brown might be taking a somewhat different tone.

“The appointments so far really put him on the other side of the battlefield on energy and climate change,” Pitney said. “Brown probably looks at these appointments and thinks, it can’t get worse, so we might as well fight back.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago