By Ramona du Houx

August 20, 2020

Dozens of fires are raging out of control in California, forcing residents to flee their homes as a weeklong heat wave continues to push temperatures into the triple digits and threatens to overload the state’s power grid. These crises have converged as the state fights the pandemic that is killing 130 Californians a day.

Death valley recorded what could be the hottest recorded temperature on the planet:130 degrees. The unbearable heat wave has forced California utilities to use rolling blackouts to prevent an overload of the power grid, as air conditioners push electricity use way up.

If the state had invested more in renewables than backing the fossil fuel industry more clean energy could have been available. Electricity companies rely on natural gas. The state uses close to 47 percent natural gas, compared to 36 percent renewables. Seeing’s how Governor Jerry Brown preferred to back fracking and Governor Gavin Newsom isn’t living up to his promise to transition the state to clean, renewable energy, for he issued 48 more fracking permits during the pandemic, some elected officials are frustrated by Sacramento’s lack of leadership.

“We have to protect our people, not the fossil fuel industry.” said Meghan Sahli-Wells former Culver City Mayor, and current Councilmember. “I’m proud to serve as Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect California, where more than 310 of us signed a letter asking the governor to take action to halt permitting, and phase out fossil fuel production once and for all.”

Just this week Governor Newsom used his emergency powers to temporarily suspend pollution laws that protect public health in order to meet the demands on the electric grid.

“We need the governor to lead. In the time of COVID-19 my people are worried about their increased risk of infection simply because their zip code has put them at greater risk. This is a health emergency. These are essential workers. Newsom needs to take action. Why hasn’t he?” asked Felipe Perez, Fresno City Councilmember and Steering Committee Member of Elected Officials to Protect California. “When I first immigrated here, I worked in the fields. Triple-digit heat is a killer. If more renewables were online, and less fossil fuels we could mitigate these extreme temperatures. The main source of greenhouse gasses comes our use of oil and gas.”

Across the state there were 23 major fires reported on August 20 and more than 300 smaller ones. The governor declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard.

“I understand we are in a state of emergency — when is Governor Newsom going to see he’s fueling the fires that cause the climate emergency?” asked San Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon. “One stroke of the pen and he could begin to phase out all fossil fuel production, and let California lead the fight to combat climate change.”

On Wednesday night tragically a helicopter used to extinguish fires crashed killing its pilot.

More than 100,000 acres were ablaze on August 20, many ignited by dry lightning storms. As tens of thousands have been evacuated the state’s emergency resources, already under strain by the coronavirus pandemic, are being pushed to their limits.

Newsom canceled his marquee speech Democratic National Convention because of the wildfires burning across California. He did make a brief appearance in a three-minute cell phone video, recorded in a forest near Watsonville where he visited an evacuation center. In it he encouraged Americans to take up the fight against climate change.

“Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California. This is an extraordinary moment in our history. Mother Nature has now joined this conversation around climate change. And so, we, too, need to advance that conversation anew,” said Newsom.

The Elected Officials to Protect California intend to hold him to his statement.