SCOTT STEEPLETON and MORGAN HOOVER, NEWS-PRESS
June 20, 2009 7:41 AM
Of the many environmental initiatives to take place in California over the past 15 years, you can bet Maureen Gorsen's fingerprints are all over them.
The 45-year-old was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson as general counsel of the state Resources Agency and, while there, led reforms of the state Environmental Quality Act as it pertains to the Endangered Species Act, the Williamson Act and the Coastal Act.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tapped her as deputy secretary for law enforcement and general counsel of the state Environmental Protection Agency in 2003. Among her accomplishments cited in this role was advising the agency during negotiations of AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.
The same year Mr. Schwarzenegger signed that bill into law, he appointed Ms. Gorsen director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.
She left that post earlier this year to join Los Angeles law firm Alston & Bird as a partner in the Environmental and Land Development Group.
She was at the Santa Barbara Club on Friday to discuss with business people the legal landscape in land use, manufacturing and climate change.
After the talk, she sat down with the News-Press.
Q: As you go around to these business groups, explain in laymen's terms your message to them.
A: I just kind of tell people what's going on in Sacramento, what regulations are coming, what you need to think about and be prepared for.
Q: On the continuum of environmental protection, where does California sit?
A: On the vanguard. The nations of the world signed Kyoto; they've agreed to reduce greenhouse gas five percent by 2012. Well, California's AB 32, signed a couple years ago, will reduce greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2020. So whatever California does, it goes further.
Q: How is Santa Barbara viewed among environmental advocates?
A: I think very positively. Environmental advocates find Santa Barbara to be a good place for them to achieve their objectives. No off-shore drilling, that kind of thing.
Q: What does the federal stimulus plan mean for environmental planning?
A: It's huge. I'm very busy with federal stimulus stuff. There's an enormous amount of opportunity for entrepreneurs in clean tech and environmentally sustainable technology, and there's a ton of seed money being distributed for that right now.
Q: What does all this money mean for the regulation side?
A: The money does come with restrictions that are different. For instance, weatherization. A huge slug of money is coming for low-income housing in Santa Barbara to the extent that it's drafty. Window-caulking and insulation -- all of those services will be provided free. Last year there was $3 million for this. This year there's $185 million, and it all has to be spent by September, whereas the $3 million they normally get, they have three years to spend it. It's an enormous amount of money, and they have to use prevailing-wage laws, whereas normally they could just use minimum wage. So there's regulatory ties that come with the money. It has requirements that are not normally there in the grant cycles.
Q: Why did you leave government?
A: I worked for the governor for five years, and it was a pretty good run, and he only has 18 months left, so I wanted to leave somebody in charge who could continue, and if you leave with less than a year left before the next governor, nobody's willing to step in, and you have this vacuum for a year. You have to time it so that somebody can come and take your leadership mantle and carry it forward. There's an unwritten rule that you don't leave the governor in the lurch for the last year.
Q: Would you go back to government, and, if so, what position would you seek?
A: Yeah! I love public service. I love public policy, but I need a break right now.
Q: What is California's biggest challenge when it comes to protecting the environment and ensuring a robust economy?
A: There's a path forward where environmentally sustainable technologies are incubated in California and spread globally, and California grows its global share of the green chemistry market, material science. We're not a big chemical maker, but if we started making green chemicals made of algae and other green products and start supplanting the petrochemical market, it would be a $600 billion market for California. It's five times the amount of the Internet market. The challenge is to put it into a framework that stimulates the growth instead of just smacking the bad.
Q: Who are the people that you would say "get it?"
A: The governor. I think there's a lot of California-based companies that really get it like Method and Levi-Strauss. There's certainly the vanguard companies that are like, 'Oh, sustainable materials, let's go.'