In his free time, the head of the most powerful environmental regulatory agency in California produces a journalistic podcast that he equates with the nation’s top news outlets.
Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Jared Blumenfeld to secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency in January. Since taking office, Blumenfeld has continued to post a new episode every two weeks, a dozen in total. The podcast intersects with CalEPA’s mission of implementing and enforcing environmental laws and the topics Blumenfeld covers often overlap with issues CalEPA’s regulatory bodies are currently reviewing.
Blumenfeld launched his podcast, called “Podship:Earth,” in 2018, while running a private firm that advised clean tech companies on best practices. Some of the episodes touch on his background as regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Pacific Southwest for eight years and as director of the San Francisco Department of Environment for nine years under then-mayor Gavin Newsom.
In his first episode, Blumenfeld interviews his former boss Gina McCarthy, who served as U.S. EPA administrator under President Obama. He also meets with San Francisco public officials, climate researchers, jailed activists and a Marin County “carbon farmer,” to name a few.
In the podcast summary, he labels Podship:Earth as “an environmental podcast” and
describes himself as “a trusted source for environmental stories” who “appears frequently” in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and NPR. To Blumenfeld, the podcast is “a call to action.” He has not updated the summary to mention his role in the governor’s administration. He does include that title on the podcast’s website and adds that he is “one of America’s most innovative environmental leaders.” He does not disclose whether the views reflect his own or that of the administration. The website is also copyrighted by Jared Blumenfeld and does not disclose details about private or nonprofit business licensing.
The podcast has also gained sponsors that include a retailer of “nontoxic” cleaning products and the audio books company Audible, which also sponsors NPR podcasts.
Also in the first episode, Blumenfeld explains his reason for launching a podcast.
“Most people are scared by the news and don’t know what the f** is going on,” he said. “So, I decided to follow (my cousin) David’s advice and create a podcast.”
In one episode, released on April 7, 2019, he discusses the regulation of neonicotinoids with the CEO of Pollinator Partnership, Laurie Adams. The nonprofit’s previous CEO, Val Dolcini, now works for Blumenfeld, as CalEPA’s deputy secretary for agriculture. Blumenfeld has also appointed Dolcini to serve as the interim director for the Department of Pesticide Regulation, a branch of CalEPA. Last year, DPR published a risk determination on neonicotinoids suggesting that future mitigation may be needed to further protect bees.
As secretary, Blumenfeld recently decided to enact the cancellation process for pesticide products containing chlorpyrifos, ahead of recommendations from the agency’s regulatory review process. The precedent grants Blumenfeld the authority to cancel neonicotinoid products as well.
Blumenfeld also discusses in his podcast the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which is central to regulatory decisions by the State Water Resources Control Board. He talks about vehicle emissions from shipping by trucks, trains and ships, which the California Air Resources Board regulates. Other topics include cannabis and hemp production, permaculture, plant-based burgers and Israeli food and water sustainability.
In a more investigative piece titled “Dirty Secrets,” Blumenfeld reports on one of Governor Newsom’s top priorities: cleaning up unsafe drinking water in California’s “agricultural heartland.” The California legislature passed a budget bill earlier this month that includes $130 million for the Clean and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. A related bill in the State Assembly would appropriate all money in the fund to the Water Board. The longstanding and controversial issue also spans several other CalEPA departments, boards and offices, including Toxic Substances Control.
The conservative-leaning Washington Examiner singled out Blumenfeld in 2014 for potential conflicts of interest, having worked in environmental activism for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. On his website, Blumenfeld writes, in those roles, “he helped protect millions of acres for wildlife and held corporations accountable.”
In response to questions about the podcast, Agri-Pulse received emailed statements from CalEPA public affairs officials. They confirmed that a conflict of interest review has been conducted.
“The podcast does not take positions on particular issues,” the statement reads. “Rather, it is a platform to hear views from a wide range of experts on their perspectives. These views are not endorsed by Podship:Earth.”
In California, conflict of interest laws focus on financial considerations, such as disclosing gifts. CalEPA pointed out that the podcast “has not accepted any sponsorships or financial support” since Blumenfeld was appointed.
Meanwhile, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development launched its own official podcast as a communications tool on June 14. In each episode to date, the podcast producers introduce themselves with their job title and the office they represent.
Podship:Earth is listed on Apple Podcasts and iTunes under the category of Science and Medicine and is rated five stars out of 196 reviews. One commenter calls it “a great alternative to the drivel on most news channels.”
Another listener, who describes herself as an environmental scientist and researcher, is more critical. She writes: The podcast is a “middle class and white…guy who went on a life-changing trip that enlightened him in so many ways and he somehow makes everything about him and/or about that trip.” She adds that the podcast is “playing a game of environmentalist stereotype bingo as well, with all the greatest hits, like idolizing other cultures, banging on about capitalism, harping on about GMOs with no scientific detail.”
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