An Agency of Ideas: How Jerry Brown and the Office of Appropriate Technology Promoted Alternative Energy in California
In the 1970s, California Governor Jerry Brown imposed new limits on California, arguing that future losses of revenue and natural resources could alter state government’s capacity to provide services. Embracing conservative ideas like reducing the size of government, limiting social program spending, and balancing budgets, Brown deviated from liberals within the Democratic Party. Although he was reluctant to create new programs, he wanted to promote resource conservation and offer Californians information on how to increase the state’s environmental sustainability. This paper examines the rise and fall of the Office of Appropriate Technology (OAT), an agency within the Brown administration that exemplified his interest in technological innovation and alternative energy sources. While scholars have studied the implementation of conservative principles in state and national government, I argue that Brown offered an alternative approach to governance that blended liberal and conservative ideas. OAT demonstrated the capacity of state government to promote ideas and provide funding for alternative energy projects, while also encouraging local governments and individuals to start projects in their own communities. Using a combination of newspapers, executive branch reports and publications, and legislative documents, this paper traces the development of OAT and shows how it started as an idea-generating machine for the governor and expanded to oversee projects that demonstrated potential for future investment, yet ultimately failed to entrench itself in state government after Brown left office. Although the office closed, its existence illustrated one Democratic response to rising conservatism in the state of California.