A real Earth Week question: What would happen if a Hearst staffer sent up a question to Hearst corporate: Why are we forced to lie for PG&E?


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Well, there it was, in the same bottom right hand corner of the Chronicle front page where the PG&E ad had been two days before, a story headlined "Green guardians go extra mile to save planet."

The April 20 story, by Chronicle/Hearst environmental writer Jane Kay, reported that Maya Butterfield, the mother of fourchildren, "drives as little as possible while she waits for a car company to sell a hybrid minivan."

The story reported that The Rev. Sally Bingham "tells her Grace Cathedral congregants that it's an insult to the Creator if they don't take care of the earth."

The story reported that UC Berkeley student Sam Aarons "lobbied to move the campus toward energy efficiency."

The story reported that lawyer turned-teacher Will Parish "installed solar panels on his roof and double panes on his windows. He takes short showers, takes his own bags to the store, and eschews bottled water in favor of good old Hetch Hetchy brew."

Hetch Hetchy brew? What about Hetch Hetchy public power? Imagine, Jane Kay, who has been around the park a time or two, got the term Hetch Hetchy on the Chronicle front page in a story extolling the folks going an extra mile and taking lesser showers to help save the planet. Incredible.

She, and all the others on the Chronicle/Hearst green team, slaving away on green this and green that for Earth Day and the paper's green coverage, did not mention the real green story: that there is such a thing as Hetch Hetchy public power and that PG&E has an illegal private utility in San Francisco that has been polluting the city, corrupting City Hall, corrupting the Hearst papers for decades, and keeping green public power out of the city. More: that PG&E muscled City Hall and stopped the city from sending its own cheap Hetch Hetchy public power to the city's own residents and businesses as federal law required. (The federal Raker Act and a U.S. Supreme Court decision mandated that San Francisco must be a public power city, the only city so mandated in the U.S., because it got an unprecedented concession to dam a beautiful valley (Hetch Hetchy) inside a national park (Yosemite) for the city's water and power supply.

We got the water, but PG@E kept us from getting our own cheap public power and instead PG&E forced the city to buy its expensive private power and decades of anti-green, pro-nuclear and fossil-burning private power. See many Guardian stories since l969).

Get the picture? The Chronicle/Hearst sprinkled friendly references to PG&E throughout their coverage while never mentioning the city's public power mandates or movements nor any mention of the major Ammiano/Mirkarimi press conference and legislation for a real greening movement, which is community choice aggregation, the first step toward public power.

David R. Baker, who wrote so glowingly about PG@E's $l0 million victory over public power in Sacramento, noted in his April 20 green piece that "PG&E, for example, offers free energy audits, which look at a shop or office's total energy use and suggest steps to cut it."

There were references to the variety of PG&E's "energy saving resources, including a home energy analyzer," with a helpful online reference, and the "many programs to help lower electricity use," again with a helpful online reference. There was even, God save us all, a special top of the page shaded box on page 22 of the April 20 Green special supplement, titled "PG&E's emissions reduction program." The end paragraph: "Several other utilities also offer customers ways to help the environment. For more information on programs offered, contact your local utility." Nobody wanted a byline on this blast of nonsense, so the tag just read "Chronicle staff."

Get the picture? Repeating for clarity and emphasis: Hearst, as it has for decades, once again polluted its news columns on behalf of PG@E and blacked out any reference to public power, the city's public power mandates, community choice aggregation, or any of the greening and financial benefits that would flow from a public power city.

Note: this is Hearst corporate policy and I do not blame reporters or editors who are forced to carry on this charade. I just wonder if sometime, somewhere, on some story like this, what would happen if a reporter or editor would send the question upstairs, why are we forced to lie for PG@E?

In any event, I am going to email the questions to Hearst corporate in New York, directly, and via their local executives Publisher Frank Vega and Editor Phil Bronstein. Why can't Hearst tell the truth about PG@E? Why is Hearst damaging its credility and embarrassing its staff by continuing to coddle PG&E and censor public power?

Bruce B. Brugmann, looking out today from my office window at the bottom of Potrero Hill and seeing the poisonous fumes wafting up and toward the city from the Mirant private power plant, courtesy of PG&E, Hearst, and PG&E-friendly stories purporting to be Earth Day coverage