Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown: ‘Never underestimate the coercive power of the central state’

Billionaire Tom Steyer, left and Gov. Jerry Brown speak at an event in Paris on Dec. 7, 2015.
Billionaire Tom Steyer, left and Gov. Jerry Brown speak at an event in Paris on Dec. 7, 2015. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

One of the goals of Californians who traveled to Paris for climate talks this week was to showcase green-energy businesses that are succeeding in the state.

But on Monday it was the “coercive power” of government for which Gov. Jerry Brown was seeking credit.

Regulations, he said at an event with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer at an art museum in the city, “work hand in glove” with innovation, forcing companies to adapt to cleaner technologies. Brown held out the introduction of the catalytic converter and the proliferation of renewable energy as examples of industry responding to regulation.

“You do have to have, at the end of the day, a regulation, a law,” he said. “Progress comes from well-designed regulatory objectives that business then follows.”

Later, at the site where world leaders are meeting to negotiate a climate pact outside of Paris, Brown urged a small crowd to “never underestimate the coercive power of the central state in the service of good.”

“You can be sure California is going to keep innovating, keep regulating,” the Democratic governor said. “And, shall I say, keep taxing.”

Controversially, many green-energy businesses benefit from government subsidies or policies to reduce greenhouse gases.

At a news conference Monday evening, business owners chuckled when asked if their companies would be viable without government support.

K.R. Sridhar, chief executive officer of the fuel cell company Bloom Energy, said, “There’s almost nothing in the post-industrial age, no business, no industry that ever got started or ever flourished without policy support, without subsidy and without federal support.”

He cited as examples the Internet and the aviation industry. Roads that support commerce, he said, are built with taxpayer money.

It would be wrong to “single out” the green-technology industry, he said, because it only needs a “helping hand,” not a permanent subsidy.

“For us,” Sridhar said, “it’s a feeding bottle and not an addiction bottle.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders