When I started contributing to this column more than four years ago we were in the midst of what seemed to be a fairly progressive presidential administration. It feels really different now, so I want to reflect on past columns, what might be coming, and what readers might want to do about it.
The first column I worked on was about the decline in honeybees. It seemed like a small issue for someone who came to his job to advocate for affordable housing and safe, efficient transportation. But I learned the importance of bees to the survival of our ecosystems and agricultural economy. How important will the decline in honeybees be to the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency?
Four years ago we wrote about the importance of solar power, for our economy as well as for our environment. Rick Perry is the nominee for Secretary of Energy. When he was a presidential candidate he said he would eliminate the Department of Energy. Will he continue federal policies in support of alternative energy? Or will he work only to facilitate further reliance on fossil fuels?
Three years ago we wrote about the proposed Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Santa Maria. We thought it was a bad idea to change the zoning of the land next to railroad tracks from industrial use to zoning that allowed an ICE holding facility. We were assured this was only a facility to hold a few serious undocumented criminals for short periods of time. Will it now be busier? We’ve all heard the deportation promises made by the new president.
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Then we wrote about the dangers of unconventional oil extraction. The late Jerry Connor wrote in our column about the geological uncertainties when high-pressure steam is pumped into the ground to soften up thick oil. We know this process has exacerbated the oil seeps on Orcutt Hill. The risks to our groundwater are uncertain and worrisome. We know concrete cracks and steel corrodes, and we know hundreds of oil wells in Santa Maria Valley and Cat Canyon have been drilled through our groundwater. There is even evidence of oil-drilling wastewater being injected into aquifers that could be used for municipal and agricultural purposes. How well will the EPA protect our water? Will the administration even allow EPA staff to enforce existing regulations?
Two years ago we started writing about the risks of the proposed Phillips 66 crude oil rail terminal in Nipomo. We cited a paper we published detailing the risks in Santa Barbara County of mile-long, highly-volatile oil trains traversing the county within close proximity of our hospitals, schools and most of our population. Will the new Secretary of Transportation support greater protections for our communities, or side with oil producers and railroads to facilitate shipment of crude oil through our cities and coastal environments?
Last year we supported a farmworker bill of rights to try to correct abuses occurring on some farms in the county. Most of our farmers follow the law and treat their workers fairly, but some apparently do not. There are allegations of wage theft, sanitation issues and health concerns, especially related to pregnant workers. Will the new Secretary of Agriculture support farmworkers’ rights? Will the Secretary of Homeland Security deport many farmworkers, leaving farmers to plow their crops under?
If you are worried about our environment, your health or fair treatment of all people, know there are many people organizing to protect us all. Join us.