On Capitol Hill, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo talks PG&E outages, clean air
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the judiciary committee's energy subcommittee. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — San Jose’s Mayor Sam Liccardo and former California Gov. Jerry Brown testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning before the judiciary committee’s energy subcommittee.

The hearing was called to examine President Donald Trump’s proposal to roll back Obama era regulations to freeze greenhouse gas emissions standards at 2020 levels. But before any of the witnesses could speak, Republican lawmakers requested adjourning the hearing.

They argued the environment subcommittee hearing interfered with the judiciary committee’s larger agenda of the day — impeachment hearings. They referred specifically to today’s closed-door testimony from White House national security advisor, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. In a heated exchange with the committee chairman, some congressmembers argued they could not be in two places at once.

As members waited for the clerk to call the roll, Mayor Liccardo huddled with San Jose Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo huddled with Rep. Anna Eshoo during Tuesday’s hearing. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

After a vote to continue the hearing, Brown began his opening statement.

“California is burning while deniers make a joke about the standards that protect us all,” said Brown.

California can set higher standards, argued Brown, dubbing the state as the laboratory of energy innovation.

“The only way that Republicans and General Motors and Trump can be right is if science is wrong,” he said.

Due to the small number of congressmembers in attendance, the hearing was relatively short. After Brown’s panel left, even more lawmakers cleared out. Liccardo used his opening statement to argue that California’s regulations support innovation, pointing to four manufacturers — Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, and Honda — which have signed on to stricter emissions standards.

According to Liccardo, our vehicles’ tailpipe remains “the greatest source of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions” in suburban cities like San Jose.

“While some argue that greater fuel efficiency will cost car buyers on new automobiles at the dealership, that same technology will save drivers three times more money at the pump,” Liccardo told the committee Tuesday. “Particularly in sprawling suburban cities like San Jose where 63 percent of our GHG emissions come from transportation.”

The San Jose mayor was only questioned by two congressmembers; in his exchange with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Democratic representative from Detroit asked Liccardo if air pollution is a problem in San Jose. The mayor’s response: absolutely.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the judiciary committee’s energy subcommittee. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

“We know it’s a problem when we see much higher rates of asthma in low-income communities in the eastern part of my city where we know there are neighborhoods built closer to freeways. We know it’s directly resulting from transportation, particularly automobiles. We know we have much farther to go,” said Liccardo.

In an interview with reporters after the hearing, the focus turned to the current power shutoffs and the PG&E bankruptcy struggle. Liccardo is adamantly pushing for a customer-owned utility and hinted at an upcoming announcement from mayors across California.

Liccardo said the path forward is going to require an enormous amount of investment — building micro-grid systems and making repairs to the existing infrastructure.

“All that is going to require an entity that is financially healthy enough to be able to make these investments,” said Liccardo.

A customer-owned utility, argues the San Jose mayor, will make investments aligned with the public interest and have greater access to funding. Earlier this month, Liccardo released a statement suggesting the city acquire some of PG&E’s infrastructure, although the utility company rejected Liccardo’s proposal.

“I’m concerned that we’re going to see PG&E go back into bankruptcy a third time,” Liccardo said. “If we simply repeat this pattern of seeing private investors come in, look for the profitable assets in the company. Obviously (they) seek to elicit the benefits of those assets for their equity and then leave the public to pick up the cost for the carcass.”

But when pressed on the wildfires raging across the state of California, Liccardo doubled down on regulating emissions, the topic that had brought him to Washington in the midst of PG&E blackouts back home.

San José Spotlight also asked about improving access to outage maps during safety shutoffs. Liccardo said the city had offered several resources to PG&E, to no avail.

“We do not have a company that is that interested in our help based on what we have heard so far,” he said.

Contact Elizabeth Mendez at elizabeth.ambriz@gmail.com and or follow @izziemae on Twitter.

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