By Elizabeth Douglas
On February 22, 2018, I joined folks from Bay Area Indivisible chapters (IEB, SF, and Berkeley), the Center for Biological Diversity, and 350.org to meet with members of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s staff. This was my first activity with IEB and my first time as a California resident – I’m a DC escapee – engaging face to face with my state policy makers. Below are some highlights and some personal reflections from this incredibly educational and uplifting experience.
What We Learned from Becerra’s Staff
Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice Arsenio Mataka and External Affairs Representative Betty Cao were welcoming, enthusiastic and appreciative of our groups’ efforts to show up and take action. It helps that Arsenio has been a lifelong environmental justice activist; he told us stories of his parents taking him to meetings where they would challenge the institutions that drove environmental policy decisions -some of the same institutions and agencies that he works for today. His empathy for the issues that our consortium of environmental activists brought to the table was a common thread to his responses.
On the EPA and Superfund Enforcement:
We shared our concern that the EPA budget cuts and scaling back of the EPA Superfund enforcement could allow irregular compliance enforcement between states. Arsenio assured us that California is going to work hard to fight against cross-border pollution. Furthermore, he said that “compliance with state laws, where they are stricter than federal law, is a mandate. So states do have clout if the feds aren’t doing their job.”
On Investigating Exxon Mobil and the PCB Monsanto lawsuit:
Attorney General Becerra understands the severity of claims regarding Exxon’s efforts to defraud investors and the public, as well as the Oregon Attorney General’s actions against Monsanto for PCB pollution contaminating dozens of waterways and leaching into ground soil. Arsenio is also very aware of both issues. However, he said, the Attorney General has a policy not to comment on investigations – including whether or not they exist.
On Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling
We had the pleasure of learning the story behind Attorney General Beccera’s thoughtful and impassioned NY Times Op-Ed regarding how California’s coastal economy would be affected by the Administration’s proposed offshore drilling 5 year plan. Arsenio believes there are significant hurdles for the plan to actually be implemented, but insisted that we must continue to comment and keep the pressure on from the comment period (ending March 9, 2018) to well into next year.
We discussed a host of other topics as well, from Clean Car Standards to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Arsenio shared that these are of great concern to the Attorney General, and while he cited procedural or bureaucratic limitations to going into much depth at the moment he made it clear that this was to be an ongoing conversation.
What I Learned from my First Indivisible Action: A Personal Reflection
While I’m no stranger to activism, this was the first time I’ve done anything with Indivisible. Ever since Trump was elected I’ve wanted to take action, but wasn’t quite sure where the right fit was — this was my first time being a mother and a start-up employee as well as an activist. I didn’t want my son to feel like anything took precedence over him. But as I sat with him on my lap watching “An Inconvenient Sequel” last year, I realized my overwhelming sense of need for action stemmed from my desire to make the world better for him. He is my inspiration and I believe working towards solutions to improve our environment is a unifying, not divisive, force. I had never met any of the lovely people in the picture accompanying this article before the pre-brief for our meeting with the Attorney General, and had only been to a single IEB meeting in January, yet this group unhesitatingly welcomed me with open arms and gave me a seat at the table on an issue that is truly close to my heart. So to Indivisible and especially Indivisible East Bay, thank you for allowing me the opportunity for immediate action… and for welcoming my son into your meetings to eat your cake and resistance cookies!
Your Action: Do Not Give Up Hope
I know acting on climate change issues can seem difficult at a time when we are dangling off the edge of a tipping point, unable to return to any sense of climate stability across the globe. Yet there are people in power, and people speaking truth to power, we can lean on. As of this writing, Attorney General Becerra’s office has filed at least 24 lawsuits — maybe more! — against the Trump administration, about a third on environmental issues. They understand that the effects of climate change disproportionately affect the poor, people of color, and women. To quote Arsenio, “pollution doesn’t know boundary lines,” and what happens in one city, state, or country affects us all.
Here are some suggested immediate actions from Attorney General Becerra’s office:
- If you haven’t already, please comment by March 9, 2018 on Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
- Protect our National Monuments and work to keep National Park Fees low for low-income families and minorities.
- Put pressure on the EPA regarding the Waters of the United States definition.
Elizabeth Douglas is a mom, runner, and activist from Alameda. She is also a Climate Reality Leader (Seattle 2017) with a strong interest in protecting our ocean and corals.
Photo credit Indivisible SF