A Northeastern Law School graduate in 2011, Yana Garcia became the leader of the California Environmental Protection Agency at a pivotal moment in California’s history.
On the day Garcia assumed the cabinet-level position of head of government on August 31, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency due to extreme heat that led to a record 116 degrees Fahrenheit in Sacramento. Declared. .
The announcement of Garcia’s new position a few weeks ago coincided with the announcement of a study reporting California’s susceptibility to mega-flooding.
And three years of drought show no signs of abating, continuing to strain the state’s water resources.
Garcia, who until recently served as special assistant attorney general in California, said the urgent need to act was the impetus for her new role.
“I’m being asked to do what I can,” says Garcia. “The responsibility to do what we can to solve the problems we face and develop solutions is huge.”
In a conversation with News@Northeastern, she explained how her background, California’s bold plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, and her co-operative experience at Northeastern University Law School have helped bring climate and social justice to the legal profession. It talks about how it solidified her desire to be accepted.
Grids and heatwaves
During Garcia’s first week on the job, California’s power grid faced a major challenge as a record heat wave put great pressure on the system.
The power grid did not fail. Garcia attributes this to environmental compliance efforts.
“California people really put their heart into the work,” she says. “Awareness about the changing climate is reaching so many people right now. Too many people in California have experienced rolling blackouts in the past.”
Helped by Governor Newsom’s public petition urging Californians to “do their part” and limit energy use for air conditioning, running major appliances and charging electric vehicles It happened, says Garcia.
She says she lives in Oakland, which fell short of the 116-degree record set in Sacramento, California. “But it was pretty bad,” says Garcia.
Imminent ban on petrol cars
In August, regulators in California adopted a rule banning the sale of new gasoline vehicles by 2035, making it the first US state to adopt such a rule.
Garcia says the move will have far-reaching implications.
“The mere fact that we are an important automotive market and the fifth largest economy in the world can drive market change.”
“Most of the emissions that create smog and cause climate change come from the transportation sector,” says Garcia. That means the shift away from gas-fueled vehicles will have an immediate impact, not just statewide, but globally, she says.
The California Air Resources Board, which she oversees, will soon release a “scoping plan” outlining policy proposals for shifting the economy away from fossil fuels.
“This plan provides a path to achieving both our 2030 climate goals and the state’s carbon neutrality by 2045,” says Garcia. Efforts to reach these goals include offshore wind power, clean fuels, climate-friendly housing, promoting carbon removal and tackling methane leaks, she says.
Nuclear power as an alternative energy
Environmentalists are increasingly talking about using nuclear energy as a “greener” alternative to burning fossil fuels.
Nuclear fission will play at least a short-term role in meeting the nation’s energy needs, says Garcia.
Newsom has just signed a legislative package that includes extending the useful life of the state’s last operating nuclear power plant, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, by five years, she said.
“I would say this is not part of an ideal long-term strategy, but it is part of what we need to explore to avoid pollution from diesel-fueled generators and natural gas,” she said. says.
“It’s likely to be part of our bridging strategy, but ideally it’s not a long-term strategy.”
Climate Change Threats to Native American Communities
Garcia has championed tribal rights in previous positions (most recently as CalEPA’s Undersecretary for Environmental Justice, Tribal Affairs and Border Relations).
Native American communities face specific threats from climate change, she said, but they also incorporate cultural practices they can adopt to combat it.
“Tribal lands have long been exploited to extract resources such as minerals and fossil fuels,” says Garcia.
It’s global, she says. Think of the tar sands mines in Canada. Indigenous tribes and others are now blaming “ecocide” for the devastating ecological impacts associated with the oil extraction process.
In California, Garcia said:
By adopting tribal cultural practices, she says, we can point the way to a greener future.
“Since time immemorial, indigenous peoples have been forest custodians,” says Garcia. She said western states such as California are increasingly practicing “cultural burning,” which involves setting small, controlled fires to reduce the risk of devastating wildfires.
In May, Newsom announced it would support burning 400,000 acres by 2035, according to Slate.
Environmental issues and immigration
Garcia said human rights and climate change issues intersect in ways that drive and influence immigration.
Many recent immigrants from Central America say droughts and other environmental disasters are influencing their decisions to leave their hometowns, says Garcia. , which is causing evacuations around the world.”
And it’s causing some unforeseen environmental problems, from water pollution and other issues related to Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall to congestion in towns on the Mexico-California border, Garcia said. To tell.
“When you look at immigration policy implementation, given the (recently withdrawn) ‘stay in mexico’ policy, what we are seeing along the border is the unexpected growth that will eventually end up on the Mexican side and in California. pollution impact. side. “
Garcia grew up in California and holds a degree in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She says she enjoyed her time in Tohoku.
“Boston was a great place to go to school,” says Garcia. She said she was impressed by the work of environmental justice communities in Boston and throughout Massachusetts, and particularly appreciated her experience working with the Roxbury environmental justice organization Alternatives for Her Community and the Environment. increase.
“It was a very important experience in my life.”
Co-op Experience at Northeastern University Law School
“I loved my Northeastern experience, and I really appreciate the experiential learning experience at law school,” says Garcia.
She had four cooperatives, including one for the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project in Texas.
Starting law school in 2008 during the recession made work experience even more important, says Garcia. “I think Northeastern University graduates are very well suited for employment.”
Children and the future of the earth
“I have a child under the age of one, and I do my best to expose her to the natural world around us,” says Garcia.
She believes it is not the position of adults to tell young people and children what to think about climate issues affecting their generation. does not speak.”
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