The challenges facing San Francisco Bay—and the opportunity for a bigger movement for the environment to come together—set the stage for Baykeeper’s 2nd Annual Water Forum on April 24. The theme was Water Policy and Bay Protection in the New Federal Era.
Our speakers, Jared Huffman, member of Congress from California’s 2nd district, and Linda Sheehan, water policy expert and Executive Director of Planet Pledge, discussed the current risks to San Francisco Bay. Radio station KALW’s Rose Aguilar moderated the event.
The federal administration is mounting the most serious assault on the environment in over 40 years. Scott Pruitt, who denies that climate change is real, heads the Environmental Protection Agency and proposes drastically cutting that agency’s budget. Those cuts include $5 million for protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay in the face of climate change-caused sea level rise.
But there is also hope. Vast numbers of people are now mobilizing and speaking out, creating energy for a new environmental vision for California and the nation. Here’s a video clip of our speakers discussing Baykeeper’s role in the future of environmental protection for San Francisco Bay:
Below are highlights of the Water Forum:
Calls, emails, and faxes from constituents make a difference in Congress. Rep. Huffman affirmed that contacting Congress “moves the needle” for lawmakers. He strongly expressed how much civic engagement matters, whether through calls, letters, protests, or town halls.
Urge the media to respect science. Moderator Rose Aguilar pointed out that major media outlets often quote people who deny that global climate change is real. Yet there’s a consensus among more than 95% of the world’s scientists that life on earth is threatened by human-caused climate change. “Urge the media to give scientists the microphone,” she said.
The Clean Water Act citizen suit provision is crucial and in danger. The federal Clean Water Act allows organizations like Baykeeper to enforce the law against pollution when regulators fail to act. Some members of Congress want to repeal this part of the law, known as the citizen suit provision. Repeal would be especially dangerous, because Baykeeper has used the this provision hundreds of times to prevent and reduce pollution in the Bay.
Holding on to our vision despite setbacks. Having to fight the current attacks from the federal administration is a setback, but we must not lose sight of what we want to achieve. The last time the US environment came under attack in the late 1960s, a movement was born, and environmental protections like the Clean Water Act were created to keep waters healthy and people safe.
Moving forward beyond current attacks. Moderator Rose Aguilar asked both speakers for suggestions for moving forward toward a better environment. Jared Huffman described his “Keep it in the Ground” bill that proposes a national phase-out of fossil fuel extraction offshore and on public lands, which would help accelerate the country toward a clean energy future. He is also making efforts to reach across the aisle and find partners to advance climate change action in coastal cities, regardless of party platform. Linda Sheehan suggested revising California’s antiquated, Gold Rush-era water rights laws to prioritize the needs of people and the right of waterways to be healthy—rather than water allocations based on an arcane system of diversions. She also suggested using already-existing state laws more effectively to protect San Francisco Bay and waterways statewide.
This is Baykeeper’s moment. Both speakers emphasized the need to support local efforts to protect the environment. With such anti-environment extremists in charge of government agencies, this is Baykeeper's moment. They highlighted Baykeeper's key strategies to protect the Bay: patrolling on the water, watchdogging polluters, and strengthening local policies. And they both agreed that when other avenues to defend San Francisco Bay are blocked, it is vital that Baykeeper can go to court to protect the Bay, if necessary.
Baykeeper thanks our speakers for their insightful presentations, and all who attended and contributed to the lively discussion. The Water Forum was a benefit to support Baykeeper’s work to protect San Francisco Bay from pollution.
You can see photos from the forum here.