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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom Gets Overwhelmed by Two Meetings

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 4:15 PM


It's not news that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has not a thing to do up there in Sacramento, a city he has said is boring.

But you know what is news: Newsom finally had something to do -- and didn't do it!

On Monday, Newsom's morning included attending a meeting to cast a vote on a challenging and important issue. As a State Lands Commissioner, it was Newsom's job to help decide whether protected marine areas home to porpoises and other adorable wildlife along California's Central Coast would be bombarded with harmful sonic blasts in the interests of nuclear safety.

PG&E was seeking permission from the commission to trawl sonic guns over protected wildlife areas in the Pacific Ocean near its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The study would map four fault lines, helping regulators assess potential risks of a meltdown-inducing earthquake.

After arriving late to the Sacramento hearing, sipping tea from a Starbucks cup, Newsom faced two options, both of which were unsavory, especially for a sensitive politician who has his sights set on a higher office.

  • He could outrage environmentalists and fishermen by voting to approve the study.
  • Or, he could appear complacent about the dangers of earthquakes and nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown.

So how did your green-branded, PG&E-funded Lieutenant Governor step up to this long-awaited occasion of great monument?

He fled.

During the public comment period, as San Luis Obispo residents and fishermen railed against the proposal via a bad Skype connection into the Sheraton Grand Sacramento hotel meeting room, Newsom skipped out (not literally, but that would have been awesome). According to his office, he left to address a group of California Connections fellows, a Southern California group holding a daylong seminar in a different room at the same hotel.

Newsom left his chief of staff, Alan Garland, to fill his seat.

As the hearing wrapped up, the other two commissioners imposed restrictions on PG&E's plan to help balance wildlife protection with nuclear safety -- such as limiting sonar tests to November and December, when whales are generally not migrating through the area and sea otters are not busily breeding -- before voting to approve it.

(PG&E still needs approvals from federal and other state agencies, and those approvals are expected to flow liberally following Monday's key ruling by the lead state regulatory agency.)

And while Garland indicated that Newsom supported PG&E's proposal, he abstained from voting on his boss's behalf, saying he was unable to do so for procedural reasons. Only Newsom himself could have cast the vote.

So don't blame Newsom if an earthquake cripples Diablo Canyon -- he never opposed PG&E's seismic mapping effort. And don't blame Newsom if porpoises start washing up on area beaches this winter, their brains fried by powerful sonar blasts -- he never voted to approve the seismic mapping effort.

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John Upton


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