April 27th, 2011


United States Senator (D-CA)


California’s senior senator is perhaps best known for her national security experience and efforts to protect the California desert from development. On April 27, before a Climate One and Commonwealth Club audience at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, in San Francisco, Senator Dianne Feinstein touched on these longtime pursuits, but also pledged to investigate the safety of the US nuclear fleet, protect children from toxins, and continue to shield California’s coastline from oil drilling.
Feinstein was clear that clean energy is California’s future. In response to an audience question asking if California’s climate policy was driving companies out of state, Feinstein said, “I don’t believe that...Energy is the largest source of new jobs for this state,” she said, citing an estimate placing the number at 100,000 additional jobs.  
Those new energy jobs – such as building large solar thermal power plants – should not be located, however, in the state’s undeveloped desert. “There is plenty of land in the desert that is disturbed that can be used. I think all of these [solar] companies are essentially finding other places to build, where there is no real environmental challenge to things that are endangered like desert tortoises,” said Feinstein.  
A trickier problem, especially in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear complex, is how to ensure the safety of – and store spent fuel from – America’s nuclear reactors. Insufficient attention has been paid to the full nuclear fuel cycle, Feinstein said. “I believe very strongly that we need either regional or centralized nuclear fuel storage. It’s asking for trouble to keep hot rods in spent pools for decades and dry casks right along the side of nuclear reactors. I think they should be moved right away.” 
She also pledged quick action on plant safety. “I chair the subcommittee that provides the funds for the Nuclear Regulatory [Commission]. I’m going to try to push as far and as fast as I can push to see that we really take a good look, a real examination, of all the facilities,” said Feinstein. “Until that’s completed, I don’t really think we’re going to face the question of new nuclear power plants.”
Feinstein warned against the danger posed by exposure to chemicals, especially for infants. Of particular concern to her was Bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, which, she said, is added to the inside of canned goods and baby bottles. “I become very interested in chemicals that are added that we know very little about,” said Feinstein. 
“Europe has a precautionary system. The chemical has to be tested and found to be benign before it is added to a product. We don’t – you have to prove, after it’s added to a product, that it’s harmful,” she added.
Though a proponent of greater energy efficiency (in the Q&A, Feinstein cited her decades-long quest to boost fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles as her proudest Senate achievement) Feinstein said now is not the time to raise the gas tax. “I’d go slowly on that. We have very long commutes for workers in this state,” she said. If you’re buying $5-per-gallon gas at a 20-gallon tank, with a 100-mile commute, “it’s very expensive.” 
“This is not the time, when gasoline is this high, with the nation trying to pull itself out of recession. We need to keep gasoline below the $4 mark right now,” Feinstein said. She blamed speculators for the high prices: “Demand is down, and supply is even – so what can it be?”
She reaffirmed that oil companies should not look to California’s coast for additional supply. “The people of California have spoken through initiative. They don’t want oil drilling off the coast. Both Senator [Barbara] Boxer and I respect that. We will fight anything that’s going to put oil drilling off the coast of California.” 
– Justin Gerdes
April 27, 2011
Photos by Ed Ritger
Mark Hopkins Hotel, Peacock Court, San Francisco