In a fast-paced, two-hour forum, four candidates for California’s 15 Congressional District competed to present themselves as the state’s best choice for action on climate change.
Wednesday night’s Climate and Environment Forum, which was hosted by the Citizens' Climate Lobby in partnership with Acterra, Sustainable San Mateo County and Thrive Alliance, featured Emily Beach, David Canepa, Gus Mattammal and Kevin Mullin who are all vying to replace outgoing congresswoman Jackie Speier.
Emily Beach, a United States Army Veteran and former mayor of Burlingame, called herself an “avid cyclist and pub transportation nut” whose top campaign priority is climate action and justice. Her talking points included protecting open space and biodiversity, imposing a carbon tax and building sustainable infrastructure to prepare for rising sea levels and wildfire.
Beach cited a lack of diversity among U.S. Representatives, highlighting her experience as a veteran and mother.
“Right now there are only 27% women in Congress. Only 17% have any military service,” she said. “We need more women, not fewer to champion things like pay equity, affordable childcare, reproductive freedom.”
David Canepa, a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and lifelong county resident, touted his commitment to “systemic change.” Describing himself as the only candidate not accepting any corporate PAC money, he added, “let’s take out the dirty money in 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 for addressing climate change, calling on Congress to innovate to create “commercially viable carbon capture.”
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 congress.” Promoting a economy-focused campaign, Mattammal said he wants to reduce carbon by creating jobs, “without demonizing entire industries that employ thousands of Americans.”
He asked voters to consider “how we get to a cleaner environment by relying on the strengths of our markets.”
Kevin Mullin, former mayor of South San Francisco and current state assembly member representing the 22nd district, emphasized his experience both in state politics and in working directly with Speier.
“I believe qualifications still matter,” he said. “I have been preparing for this role my whole life.”
Mullin said addressing climate change requires a “Marshall Plan-level effort” and endorsed a carbon tax. He also spoke about his work to address sea level rise in San Mateo County and called himself the “architect of a $3.7 climate resiliency package adopted in the state budget.”
All four candidates answered questions about incentivizing green transportation, creating equitable and inclusive policies, reducing military emissions and engaging the youth.
Canepa pushed for creating “something like the Peace Corps” to engage youth in climate issues and give them the training and opportunity to do real work.
Beach, for her part, said she would bring young people on as advisors and members of her staff.
In response to a question about current political divides, Beach spoke about living as far as Texas, Korea and Saudi Arabia, saying that she has the experience to “build those cultural bridges” and create policies sensitive to the needs of people from different socioeconomic and political backgrounds.
Mullin was more direct, calling Trumpism a “cancer” that needs to be “excised…from the political discourse.”
Nuclear power was a particularly contentious issue among the candidates.
While Canepa called the question of using nuclear power “extremely difficult,” ultimately opposing it out of fear of “economic and environmental destruction,” his competitors disagreed.
“With all due respect to David I think it’s an easy question. Yes, we should absolutely have nuclear as part of the solution,” Mattammal said. “We should be building more of them. It is emission free.”
Mullin and Beach both expressed a preference for alternative options, like wind power, but supported nuclear as a perhaps necessary evil.
“Nuclear has 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 thoroughly studied because we do have a climate emergency.”
The candidates were also divided about how to tackle the current oil crisis.
With gas going for $6 or more per gallon, Mattammal argued in favor of increasing the U.S.’s domestic oil production.
“A little bit more fuel capacity protects us so we’re not dependent on Vladimir Putin, we’re not dependent on the Middle East,” he said. “Our energy independence is one the things that allows us to influence world affairs more than we otherwise would.”
However, his three rivals stood in stark opposition, with Canepa describing the moment as an “opportunity to get people back on public transit” and Beach calling on legislators to play the long game and let the market incentivize people to drive less.
“I'm not supportive of any rebate or subsidy for people to drive. I just think it's foolish,” Canepa said. “We need to tax the profiteers—these oil companies that are making record profits.”
All U.S. congressional districts, including California’s District 15, are up for election on November 8, 2022. The primary is scheduled for June 7, 2022.
Read our Twitter thread for more coverage from the April 6 candidate forum.