Capitol Alert: Nonprofit takes California lawmakers to Scandinavia

jwhite@sacbee.comSeptember 24, 2013 

In an annual tradition, a union-and-corporate-backed nonprofit has spirited recessing California lawmakers away to Sweden, Norway and Denmark for an educational trip.

The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy has faced scrutiny in the past for furnishing lawmakers with paid trips abroad. In recent years, that has included jaunts to Spain, Brazil, Italy, Japan and South Africa.

This year, legislators and officials are touring Scandinavia. Scheduled participants include Sens. Kevin de León, Anthony Cannella, Ricardo Lara and Bill Emmerson; Assembly members Travis Allen, Cristina Garcia, Steven Bradford, Kristin Olsen and Shirley Weber; and a collection of board members representing energy companies, labor groups and environmental organizations.

The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy chose Scandinavia because the region -- Sweden especially -- has emerged as a leader in encouraging the use of renewable energy, said P.J. Johnston, a spokesman for the organization. Johnston said the organization has come to anticipate criticism of such trips but emphasized that the focus remains on developing thoughtful public policy.

"I know there are critics of any kind of travel but the fact is this organization was founded a long time ago ago and has been doing essentially the same thing for all those years, which is having working trips to places around the world that can give insight with regard to best practices," Johnston said. "These are not golf trips to Maui."

A lawsuit filed this week by a Pacific Gas & Electric Company shareholder would beg to differ. The lawsuit linked alleged negligence leading up to the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion to past California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy trips, saying they allowed state regulators to become cozy with industries they are responsible for overseeing.

The complaint faults California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Peevey for participating in "lavish junkets that are represented as necessary excursions to improve California's energy situation" but that in fact serve to "reduce the amount of regulation PG&E is under."

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