First he came for our auto emissions standards, now he wants to frack our federal lands . . .

By Christina Tarr

Deadline – submit comments by email by September 7, 2018. Note that you are commenting on 83 FR 39116.
If email link doesn’t work, address is: blm_ca_bkfo_oil_gas_update@blm.gov  

In a coordinated attack on California, coming just after challenging our vehicle emissions standards, the Trump administration took the first steps toward opening up 1.6 million acres of public land and mineral estate in California to fracking and oil drilling. The Bureau of Land Management posted a notice of intent in the Federal Register on August 8, 2018:

the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Bakersfield Field Office, Bakersfield, California, intends to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a potential Resource Management Plan (RMP) amendment for the Bakersfield Field Office Resource Management Plan. The supplemental EIS will analyze the impacts of hydraulic fracturing technology on BLM-administered public land and mineral estate in the Bakersfield Field Office Planning Area exclusive of the California Coastal National Monument and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

The notice seeks comments on the dangers of opening up 400,000 acres of public land and an additional 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties. This would end a five year moratorium on leasing federal land to oil companies in California: no federal lands in the state have been leased to oil companies since 2013, when a federal judge found that the BLM had leased land in Monterey County without fully considering the environmental impact of fracking.

Environmentalists are concerned that fracking — an extreme oil-extraction process that blasts toxic chemicals mixed with water underground to crack rocks — can increase the risk of earthquakes and contaminate groundwater. The public lands in question here sit over groundwater that supplies neighboring areas with water for agricultural and human uses. In addition, fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, which means toxic chemicals are even closer to underground drinking water supplies than usual, with unusually high concentrations of chemicals, many of which are dangerous to human health and the environment.

In a state where water is more precious than oil, we can’t take this kind of risk with our groundwater.

Comment now! Comments close on September 7, 2018. More info on commenting here (but don’t use the comment link on that page – it appears to be broken!) Send an email instead to: blm_ca_bkfo_oil_gas_update@blm.gov and note that you are commenting on 83 FR 39116. 

Notes you can include in your comment:

  • Do not open our beautiful public lands to fracking and drilling. Do not sacrifice our health, wildlife and climate to profit big polluters.
  • Fracking involves the use of very toxic chemicals, which we don’t want on our public lands.
  • The toxic chemicals will invariably spread to nearby cities and towns, and the people affected are often the very poorest people.
  • These toxic chemicals get into the groundwater, especially in California, where fracking is dangerously shallow.
  • In a state where water is so precious — to agriculture, human populations, and wildlife — clean water is worth more than dirty oil.
  • We desperately need to keep these dirty fossil fuels in the ground and focus more on developing cheaper and cleaner green energy technologies. The climate is changing and we need to take step to move away from oil, not pour resources into using the dirtiest and most difficult to extract.
  • Why despoil our environment to extract a resource we should be moving away from?

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Risk-limiting audits: did your vote count?

This action originally appeared in the Indivisible East Bay newsletter on June 14, 2018. At that time, the deadline to make a call was Monday June 18; we will update as the status changes.

June 19 update

  • Thank you for all your calls and letters — it’s working! Today, AB 2125 was heard in the Senate Elections Committee. The courtroom was packed. Just prior to the hearing, negotiations about troublesome provisions in the bill resumed in an attempt to salvage it. Author Quirk offered another set of amendments to satisfy some of the most important provisions that were previously lacking in the bill:

    • The audits will be based on paper ballots
    • Audits will include Vote-by-Mail and provisional ballots
    • Secretary of State to write regulations on public verifiability

Though not yet written up by legislative counsel, these amendments were read aloud to all in the courtroom. The bill passed committee: 3 – 0 – 2 abstain.

As amended, AB 2125 sunsets in 2021, essentially making it a pilot bill. Advocates for election security and transparency are cautiously optimistic that a workable pilot bill may result. There are still kinks to be worked out (especially because it is voluntary for counties as amended today) so please stay tuned. We may need to put up our dukes one more time before this reaches the Senate floor.

Again, thank you. Nothing is more important to democracy than the accuracy and transparency of our vote totals. You did this. You prevented damaging election legislation from becoming law. Now buckle your seat belt.

June 18 update: Please keep the calls coming in today! Crucial vote on the integrity of our vote-counting audits is happening Tuesday June 19 at 1:30 PM. Can you join us and CA Clean Money to help pack the hearing room? Here is our joint letter explaining problems with the bill.

If you can’t come to Sacramento, please sign this coalition petition urging the Senate Elections Committee to vote “NO” on AB 2125 unless it’s amended. We need election audits but they must be transparent and accurate — AB 2125 is not there yet!

California vote-audit bill falls short

Vote vote vote! But — how do you know it was counted? In 2017 California enacted AB 840, exempting many vote-by-mail and all provisional ballots from audit. Security experts agree: to determine whether election outcomes are correct, we need risk-limiting audits (RLAs) which hand count a small sample of paper ballots, then expand as needed. AB 2125, headed for a crucial hearing in the CA Senate on Tuesday 6/19, nominally requires RLAs but has no teeth. Please tell the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee: We need state-of-the-art post-election audits to protect our democracy from cyberattacks. Why would we settle for less?

What to say:

My name is ___, I’m a California resident and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want our election outcomes to be verifiable and I strongly support risk-limiting audit legislation. But I oppose AB 2125 because the bill doesn’t meet best standards agreed upon by experts. California should lead with a model risk-limiting audit that makes our elections trustworthy. I ask Senator _____ to oppose AB 2125.

Senator Harry Stern, Chair
Phone: (916) 651-4027

Senator Joel Anderson, Vice Chair
Phone: (916) 651-4038

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Environmental Justice: a meeting with AG Becerra’s office

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:

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

No Taxation Without Representation

More than 6 million American citizens are not permitted to vote because they have a past criminal conviction. California is better than many states in allowing formerly incarcerated people to vote once they have successfully finished probation, but nearly 180,000 California citizens, most of them people of color, are prohibited from voting only because they’re in state prison or on parole. Initiate Justice, which advocates for “people directly impacted by incarceration, inside and outside prison walls,” believes this is a wrong that can be righted; the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018 (VRDA), their statewide ballot initiative, would restore voting rights to these citizens and prohibit the disenfranchisement of voters because they are imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction.

Help California join Maine and Vermont, currently the only states that don’t deprive felons of their right to vote even while they’re incarcerated. For more information see this article about states’ varied approaches to voting rights for felons; and read Restoring the Right to Vote, a pdf booklet by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In order to get the VRDA initiative on the November 2018 California ballot, Initiate Justice needs to get more than 550,000 signatures from registered CA voters by April 17, 2018. You can help:

  • Before you begin, read complete talking points; and watch the video at this page
  • This page on the Initiate Justice website has complete instructions and links for you to download and print signature-gathering petitions, or have them mailed to you
  • Want to help more? Email IEB’s voting team, or join the voting-issues channel on Slack (email info@indivisibleeb.org for an invite to IEB’s Slack platform).

And while we’re on the subject — all of you who ARE eligible to vote, don’t squander that precious right! Please, right now:

  • Are you eligible and not registered? Register online to vote in California
  • Do you have to re-register? Check when you must, here, and if so, re-register!
  • Haven’t checked your registration? Check it now!
  • Do you know any 16- or 17- year olds? Check their eligibility, and help them pre-register online, to vote at 18!
  • Then: ask everyone you know the above questions, and if they’re eligible to vote, help them follow the same steps.

Here are some other very helpful sites which can be used for people in states other than California.

  • Vote.org offers lots of information, and it’s easy to remember (note that it requires you to provide an email address)
  • Indivisible has partnered with TurboVote to help you sign up to receive election reminders, get registered to vote, apply for your absentee ballot, and more
  • The National Association of Secretaries of States’ website helps eligible voters figure out how and where to vote
 Graphic by Democracy Chronicles / Creative Commons

Sojourn in Southern California for Senator Feinstein

Senator Feinstein spoke to the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce at a luncheon on Wednesday October 11. As you’d expect the 400 or so attendees were mostly business people among whom the senator seemed very comfortable.

We’re not making any accusations—and it was likely just that the hosts were so  in sync with their guest—but the questions seemed to be exactly what the senator would have chosen to be asked at her first public appearance since announcing her reelection campaign. And she was clearly very prepared, down to statistics on how the elimination of the state and local tax deduction would hurt middle income Riverside residents.

Sen. Feinstein and moderator Jack Clarke talked about terrifying weapons: the senator’s gun control legislation, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the potential crisis brewing between the United States and North Korea— “the longer it lasts this way, the easier it is for one of the two leaders to make a slip in rhetoric and something happens that we don’t want.”

Asked about tax “reform” the senator  was very clear that the Republicans do not have bill. They have “a framework—whatever that is.” And she predicted that if they attempted to jam something through without hearings and “regular order” that it would certainly fail. Let’s hope she has Senator McCain’s word on that. (Note: He voted against the 2001 Bush tax cuts; she voted for them.)

She spoke at length about saving the Affordable Care Act and stabilizing and improving the marketplaces, and about the nearby airport and what it means for the local economy and infrastructure.


Clarke also read three audience questions off of cards collected at the event including one about the future of DACA. She was, of course, strongly in favor of the DREAM Act. But she made some statements that were troublingly supportive of a deal on border security, against the wishes of the DREAMers themselves who don’t want their safety traded for policies that harm other immigrants. She said, “we can use more border patrol,” which might be a reasonable argument to make if the immigration enforcement we currently have was doing a decent job protecting the rights and humanity of the people it interacts with.

For young people who want to be involved in politics and the future of this country, she said: “Instead of sitting back and criticising, get out and run for something…people jump up and down, and you ask them what they really want and it’s some vague statement.”

Clearly she’s not talking about Indivisible East Bay. While we do jump up and down quite a bit, our statements are anything but vague. We certainly criticize, but we don’t sit back. We know what we want and we’ve learned how to translate that into requests for specific votes and legislation, and oversight, because that is the most effective way to maximize our power. But as the senator well knows (and, to be fair, has demonstrated many times) part of the job she took on when she asked to represent us, is the task of taking her constituents’ vague statements and finding the way to address those needs through policy.

And as for the admonition to “get out and run for something.” It’s not bad advice. More of us need to do that. But more of us also need to realize that it’s not the only way. Many of us Indivisibles across the country ourselves realized only recently that democracy doesn’t have to just mean voting and running for office. It can mean working as constituents together with our elected representative to govern ourselves.

Road trip to Fresno: Feinstein Q&A with rural California

The atmosphere at Senator Feinstein’s Central Valley Community Foundation event in Fresno on Thursday was quite a contrast to that at her Bay Area events, but the senator herself was largely the same as ever, which speaks both to her integrity and to her moderate inclinations.

The Q&A portion of the event lasted only about 30 minutes and didn’t include any audience questions. The senator displayed her in-depth knowledge of water issues and touted the Water Resources Development Act as an example of the kind of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans that, though she acknowledges it is disappearing, the senator still advocates for as the only way to  solve problems.

Lines like that got applause in Fresno where they would have gotten jeers in San Francisco. But I think many, if not most of us throughout California agree in principal that bringing together differing viewpoints through compromise needs to be part of the way forward for our country.

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The real question is, how do you compromise with people who. as Sen. Feinstein put it,  “want to cut the costs of health care to provide funding for tax reform which will benefit the wealthy”?  And who lie about it. The senator called the huge Medicaid cuts in the Republican health care bill “undeniable,” but Donald Trump denies them. Paul Ryan denies them. HHS Secretary Tom Price denies them.

The senator’s staff has told us in several different contexts that she refuses to take no for an answer even when legislative solutions to problems look impossible. That is admirable. That is what I want from my representative. I don’t want her to give up that optimism. The optimism I do want her to give up is the hope that “this president can change.” He can’t. She also said she wished “he could calm down.” So do we all. But he won’t.

We need different tactics for this administration. One shouldn’t have to refuse to continue business as usual in the Senate in order to secure an independent investigation into Russian interference in our election. One shouldn’t have to threaten to oppose transportation department nominees in order to get that department to release funding that has been approved by Congress.

Sen. Feinstein’s said in Fresno that the Tea Party has pushed compromise out of our government. I share her fear that what we sometimes describe as the Tea Party of the left will drive out what little is left.

But we’re not going to get compromise back by lamenting its passing or by unilaterally caving in the name of comity. In that context, compromise is a bad word. That’s the kind of compromise that you can do to your principles, or to your safety, or to your sacred honor.

To get compromise back into our government we’re going to have to fight for it. Republicans have shown that they won’t compromise willingly for the good of our country. It seems we need to use resistance tactics to force them back to the table before we can get down to the kind of work Sen. Feinstein described rather wistfully on Thursday:

“It isn’t words that come out of your mouth. It’s words that go on a piece of paper, that will be legal, that will stand the test of time, that will be certified as workable. People have to come back to good old legislation. It’s not rhetoric. It’s, how do you solve a problem?”

Town Hall vs “Fireside Chat”

With tickets at $150, we could only afford to send one member to Senator Feinstein’s fireside chat at an elegant luncheon hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). The Juniper Networks “Aspiration Dome” was full of the sort of well-dressed people you’d expect. Many transit agencies, healthcare/health tech organizations, and local tech companies sponsored tables, including Palantir Technologies, co-founded by Trump advisor Peter Thiel, which builds tools for intelligence agencies which have been likened to the president’s proposed “muslim registry.”

Senator Feinstein spoke with SVLG CEO Carl Guardino for about 45 minutes, mainly about Caltrain electrification, infrastructure needs for the growth of the region, keeping the region competitive with other tech hubs around the country and around the world, and did not take questions either directly or indirectly from the audience—our member asked. The senator urged those present to make their displeasure over the defunding of the Caltrain project known to the 14 Republican members of Congress who wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting the withdrawal of those funds.

In a moment of vulnerability, she admitted that she hadn’t foreseen the Bay Area’s explosive growth and that she regretted opposing the second BART tube to the East Bay back in the 1970s. Then, in reply to a softball question, said that she supports immigration reform, and, unprompted she also expressed concern over what that might mean for American workers. She told a story about a constituent who had to train his replacement who came here on an H1-B visa, and did not mention the agreement among experts that immigration has overall positive effects for American workers.

At one point, she joked, “I had a town hall, I am not sure I recommend it.”  One can easily understand that being heckled was not a pleasant experience, but surely she thinks it was worthwhile to hear directly from and speak directly to her constituents. Our member, for one, says she preferred the town hall to this fireside chat. And Senator Feinstein seemed to signal agreement when she concluded, “People inspire me, I don’t want us to lose the pride we have as Americans” and it is “easy to want to serve them.”