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Gov. Jerry Brown: Remember John Husing (debate over the moral high ground)

By -- March 25, 2015

“[T]he buildup of carbon coming from coal and petroleum and other sources … is going to create these droughts and much, much worse. And that’s why to have the leader of the Senate, Mr. McConnell, representing his coal constituents, … risk, the health and well being of America, is a disgrace.… President Obama is taking some important steps. And to fight that, it borders on immoral.”

– California Gov. Jerry Brown, Meet The Press, March 22, 2015.

“The inter-state political war against global warming is over wealth effects, not health effects. As John Husing summed up the inversion of morality in such public policies:’Bluntly, it does our region little good if we create a pristine environment but let people increasingly die of the diseases and behaviors fostered by poverty’.”

John Husing, PhD, economist, “Public Health, Socio-Economics, and Logistics” (October 2013)

Recently, on the Sunday morning weekly TV news-interview program Meet The Press, the Democratic Party called upon Governor Jerry Brown of California to snuff out a groundswell of opposition in the U.S. Senate to Obama’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power plants by 30 percent by 2030.

Gov. Brown specifically called out U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s effort to defeat the aspirations of EPA’s Power Plant Plan. Brown called McConnell’s effort a “disgrace” that “borders on immoral”.

McConnell, a Republican from the coal state of Kentucky, sent a letter urging all 50 state governors to reject the Obama-backed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (C02, ozone, methane, nitrous oxide) from existing power plants.

And more recently, McConnell introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2016 budget resolution (SCR 11) that would allow states to opt out of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan if it was determined that increased electricity rates would hurt low-income ratepayers, impair reliability, discourage investments in existing generating units, hurt manufacturing and “other important sectors of the economy of the state,” or disadvantage the state in other ways. [1]

What Gov. Brown failed to mention that the EPA plan would selectively stop what is called leakage of jobs, industries, population, taxes, and votes from Blue Democratic Party states to Red Republican states caused by high green electricity rates in Blue States.

NBC interviewer Chuck Todd also failed to ask Brown about the morality of his own family oil fortune and if he had an ethical conflict when he obtained the repeal of the California oil depletion allowance tax on oil companies in in 1975.

But what Brown’s talk show comments might really do is refocus the debate on whether or not the Obama-EPA Plan captures the moral high ground of public health, as he asserts.

Enter Democrat Economist John Husing

Obama’s and Brown’s biggest antagonist might not be McConnell or U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), both of whom he has attacked for opposing the EPA plan on the grounds of immorality and scientific competency respectively. Ironically, the biggest threat to the EPA Plan might come from a lesser-known California economist who touts that he has served as campaign manager for 100 Democrat partisan election campaigns.

In October, 2013, Dr. Husing presented a Power Point slide show at a meeting before members of the California Construction Trucking Association (CCTA) titled “Public Health, Socio-Economics, and Logistics” (see here and summary here).  (Note: logistics means the commercial transporting of goods to customers.)

The CCTA has been unsuccessfully pursuing lawsuits against the California EPA since 2011 to stop the mandatory installation of $20,000 exhaust filters and newer cleaner truck engines on diesel trucks. The mandates come from California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (also know as California Assembly Bill 32). Like Obama’s EPA Power Plant Plan, California’s anti-global warming mandates are based on the basis of improving public health.

Joe Rajkocacz, director of governmental affairs for the CCTA, stated in an email that Husing’s research indicates that enforcing air quality regulations on the trucking industry would cause worse public health impacts than the air pollution that is to be reduced by those regulations.

Environment at Bottom of Public Health Totem Pole

Husing cites a definitive University of Wisconsin study indicating:

  • 40 percent of poor public health can be attributed to socio-economics, mainly lack of “bridge” jobs to the middle class;
  • 30 percent to individual health behaviors;
  • 20 percent to medical care; and
  • 10 percent to environmental causes.

Husing states that the environment is the lowest determinant of public health according to the Wisconsin study, but “it has been elevated almost to the exclusion of other priorities” (see slide 38). Logistics and shipping jobs account for 16.7 percent job growth from 1990 to 2012 (slide 15), and 27.6 percent of job growth from 2012 to 2013 (slide 22) in California’s Inland Empire (comprising Riverside and San Bernardino Counties).

Husing makes the statistical case that it is low paying, modest jobs, like trucking, that lift people out of poverty and into the middle class and, thus, into improved health. On the socio-economic totem pole of public health, environmental factors are on the bottom, but on the top of public policy priorities under California’s anti-Global Warming Law and Obama’s EPA Power Plant Plan.

The inter-state political war against global warming is over wealth effects, not health effects. As Husing summed up the inversion of morality in such public policies:“Bluntly, it does our region little good if we create a pristine environment but let people increasingly die of the diseases and behaviors fostered by poverty.”


[1] Stated Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio): “This commonsense amendment returns power to the states by ensuring they can make their own decisions when determining if a federal regulation will negatively impact their electricity prices and economy.”

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