Sunday, December 10, 2023

California Climate Agency Bars Staff From Contact With Former Agency Scientist

California’s air quality regulatory agency barred staff from communicating with a former top scientist after he criticized gas lobbyists and a director there in an email to California Air Resources Board members and staff. Jim Duffy, who retired from CARB in 2022, had written that the agency and industry representatives made misleading statements about subsidies for clean fuels.

In response to Duffy’s email, CARB climate director Rajinder Sahota emailed fuel policy specialists and scientists at the agency on Oct. 23, prohibiting them from “engaging” with Duffy, who was a CARB fuel chief from 2019 to 2020.

Others who had held positions like Duffy’s at CARB now work for oil and gas business associations. Those former CARB managers have continued to communicate with staff at the agency. A current CARB employee, who spoke anonymously because they feared being fired or other retaliation, said the email regarding Duffy is something Sahota “has never issued for people who are directly lobbying.” The employee said the directive showed “regulatory capture” of CARB by the gas industry.

Sahota’s email to five senior staff members said only, “No staff is to engage with Jim. Unbelievable.”

Neither Sahota, nor any of the staff or board members, responded to detailed questions from Capital & Main. Instead, CARB communications director Lys Mendez sent an excerpt of the Low Carbon Fuel Standards regulation, apparently supporting Sahota’s statement that Duffy had criticized.

Mendez wrote that Sahota’s email forbidding contact with Duffy was intended to “ensure coordination on official responses” and to prevent actions that could violate public meetings laws. (Sahota’s eight-word email did not cite either of those reasons for prohibiting contact with Duffy.)

Since June, Duffy has submitted written public comments to the agency critical of several policies he was once in charge of implementing, including one that rewards dairies and gas companies for collecting methane from cow manure to sell as a fuel for heavy trucks.

Critics claim that the policy does little besides enrich gas companies. Others, including advocates, Central Valley residents and state lawmakers, say the policy is also leading to more cows at dairies, harming rural communities with increased air and water pollution. CARB says there is no data showing its policy is leading to bigger herds.

Methane leaks during the refining process, sending climate pollution into the atmosphere. Opponents of methane subsidies, including Duffy, say the policy diverts money that could instead go to cleaner alternatives, such as electricity from solar energy.

Sahota’s prohibition on contact with Duffy could run afoul of free speech protections that cover government employees, said Leslie Jacobs, a professor of law at McGeorge School of Law specializing in constitutional protections of speech.

In general, an employer cannot stop employees from speaking to members of the public about their jobs, Jacobs said. Employers can block employee communication if it undermines the credibility of the organization, she added. CARB said it is “common protocol and a best practice” to coordinate its official responses, but did not explain why employees couldn’t talk to Duffy.

Since 2013, California has promoted fuels that emit fewer pollutants and greenhouse gases through its Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS) program. It offers incentives for companies to produce fuel from non fossil sources, like manure and landfill methane, as well as diesel made from plants and animal fats. CARB sets annual limits on the amount of carbon a company can emit per gallon of fuel it produces, using a system of credits and deficits to cap emissions on California’s roads.

Gas producers receive subsidies to collect methane — a potent greenhouse gas — from cow manure. They often split the money they receive for collecting methane with the dairy farms where they gather the methane.

During Duffy’s time as a CARB fuel chief, the dairy methane setup remained mostly unchanged. After retiring, he moved to Montana.




1 comment:

Bird of Paradise said...

The California Climate Nazis need to be totally defunded by 100%