Climate issues escalate at District 15 Congressional Forum | New

In a fast-paced, two-hour forum, four candidates from California’s 15th congressional district battled it out as the state’s top choice for taking action on climate change.

Wednesday night’s climate and environment forum, hosted by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby in partnership with Acterra, Sustainable San Mateo County and Thrive Alliance, featured Emilia Beach, David Canepa, Gus Mattammal and Kevin Mullinwho are all in the running to replace outgoing MP Jackie Speier.

Emily Beach, a US Army veteran and former mayor of Burlingame, called herself an “avid cyclist and pub hauler” whose top campaign priority is climate action and justice. His talking points included protecting open space and biodiversity, imposing a carbon tax and building sustainable infrastructure to prepare for rising sea levels and wildfires.

Beach cited a lack of diversity among U.S. representatives, pointing to her background as a veteran and a mother.

“Right now, there are only 27% women in Congress. Only 17% have military service,” she said. “We need more women, not fewer, to stand up for things like pay equity, affordable childcare, reproductive freedom.”

David Canepa, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors member and lifelong resident of the county, touted his commitment to “systemic change.” Describing himself as the only candidate not to accept corporate PAC money, he added: “Let’s get the dirty money out of politics.”

He listed his top three priorities as Medicare for All, free community college and the Green New Deal and heralded technology as a key tool to fight climate change, calling on Congress to innovate to create a “capture of the commercially viable carbon”.

Gus Mattammal, a businessman and educator, and the only Republican in the race, presented his political affiliations as advantageous in what he said “will almost certainly be a Republican convention.” Promoting an economy-focused campaign, Mattammal said he wanted to reduce carbon by creating jobs, “without demonizing entire industries that employ thousands of Americans.”

He asked voters to think about “how to achieve a cleaner environment by building on the strengths of our markets”.

Kevin Mullin, former mayor of South San Francisco and current state assemblyman representing the 22nd district, highlighted his experience in both state politics and working directly with Speier.

“I believe qualifying always counts,” he said. “I’ve prepared for this role all my life.”

Mullin said tackling climate change requires a “Marshall Plan-level effort” and endorsed a carbon tax. He also spoke about his work to combat rising sea levels in San Mateo County and called himself the “architect of a $3.7 billion climate resilience program enacted in the state budget”.

All four candidates answered questions about promoting green transportation, creating fair and inclusive policies, reducing military emissions, and engaging youth.

Canepa lobbied to create “something like the Peace Corps” to engage young people in climate issues and give them the training and opportunity to do real work.

Beach, for her part, said she would bring in young people as advisers and as members of her staff.

In response to a question about current political divides, Beach spoke of living as far away as Texas, Korea and Saudi Arabia, saying she has the experience to “build those cultural bridges” and create policies that are sensitive to the needs of people from different socioeconomic and political backgrounds.

Mullin was more blunt, calling Trumpism a “cancer” that needs to be “excised…from political discourse.”

Nuclear power was a particularly contentious issue among the candidates.

While Canepa called the issue of using nuclear energy “extremely difficult”, ultimately opposing it for fear of “economic and environmental destruction”, its competitors disagreed.

“With all due respect to David, I think that’s an easy question. Yes, we absolutely should have nuclear as part of the solution,” Mattammal said. “We should build more. It is emission free.

Both Mullin and Beach expressed a preference for alternative options, such as wind power, but supported nuclear as a possibly necessary evil.

“Nuclear needs to be part of the conversation, if we can manage the waste, safely and if it’s cost-effective,” Beach said. “It should be on the table and studied in depth because we have a climate emergency.”

Candidates were also divided on how to deal with the current oil crisis.

With gas costing $6 or more a gallon, Mattammal argued for increased US domestic oil production.

“A little more fuel capacity protects us so we don’t depend on Vladimir Putin, we don’t depend on the Middle East,” he said. “Our energy independence is one of the things that allows us to influence world affairs more than we otherwise would.”

However, his three rivals have been fiercely opposed, with Canepa describing the moment as an “opportunity to get people back on public transport” and Beach calling on lawmakers to play the long game and let the market tempt people to drive less.

“I am not in favor of a discount or a subsidy for people to drive. I just think it’s stupid,” Canepa said. “We have to tax the profiteers, those oil companies that are making record profits.”

All U.S. congressional districts, including California District 15are up for election on November 8, 2022. The primary is scheduled for June 7, 2022.

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Teresa H. Sadler