2015-11-25 / Community

Political activist stumps for environment

By Sylvie Belmond


RL Miller RL Miller A former lawyer and a mother of two from Oak Park is rolling up her sleeves and taking on the fossil fuel industry.

RL Miller founded Climate Hawks Vote, a political action committee devoted to supporting candidates who promise to fight against what they see as global warming and its effect on climate change.

Since its launch in 2014, Climate Hawks Vote has raised almost $30,000, mostly from small individual donors. PACs are not allowed to contribute directly to parties or candidates, but they can work in other ways to help contenders get elected.

Climate change—purportedly caused by air pollution—is the greatest challenge facing the generations, yet too many politicians are afraid to talk about it, Miller says. It’s important for officials to speak frankly about the climate crisis and components such as oil drilling in the arctic and the ongoing production of coal.

CHV keeps score, ranking U.S. congressional Democrats on their climate and clean energy voting records. Miller’s political committee primarily endorses Democratic candidates because most Republicans deny the reality of climate science, she said.

As chair of the state Democratic party’s Environmental Caucus, she wrote a fossil fuel divestment resolution that became Senate Bill 185. The resolution called for the California Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and CalSTRS, which provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits for public school educators, to stop investing in oil companies. The bill was signed into law.

What is Miller’s strategy?

“You see a problem, you talk about it and you sort of figure out how to fix it,” said the citizen lobbyist.

“I got frustrated in that there are a lot of smart people in the environmental community writing reports. But reports are like yard signs, they don’t vote,” said Miller, a 53-year-old former attorney who worked in construction defects and landslide law.

Her priorities locally include cleaning up the Santa Susana Field Lab in the Simi Hills and stopping the use of pesticides in the Oxnard Plain strawberry fields.

Miller spent a week in Sacramento to support Senate Bill 350, the clean energy and pollution reduction act which passed in September. The bill requires 50 percent greater efficiency in new buildings and 50 percent more renewable fuels by 2030. The original resolution called for 50 percent less petroleum consumption by 2030, a provision that was later removed.

Last month, Shell Oil Company abandoned a plan to drill in the American Arctic in the foreseeable future, citing economic reasons. President Obama has since canceled all drilling leases in the far north for the next five years.

Pushing for change, one small victory at a time, Miller says.

Miller said recent news reports revealed that ExxonMobil knew about the dangerous impact of greenhouse gases in the 1970s and ’80s. The company was aware that global warming would harm the earth, but was also aware that it would cut the cost of arctic drilling by 30 to 50 percent. To protect their profits, Exxon shut down its climate change research and promoted climate denial instead, Climate Hawks says. The PAC launched a petition calling on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil.

Miller’s target is mostly fossil fuels. Her goal is to increase the use of renewable energy and to see that the candidates committed to doing that are the ones who get elected.

The 53-year-old Miller is also the co-founder of a local chapter for 350.org, a global organization that works to reduce carbon emissions. Miller supports many environmental causes but focuses her efforts on climate change.

“I have these two beautiful boys and I want them to have a world as good as mine,” she said.

“There are people who don’t care where their electricity comes from as long as the light comes on. But there are people who are scared and others who see a massive business opportunity and who feel better knowing their electricity is coming from a good place,” she said.

Alan Weiner, an Agoura Hills resident and co-founder of the local 350.org chapter, is a Miller ally.

“She’s willing to stick her neck out and get involved. She’s also respected all around the country,” Weiner said.

Another Miller supporter is Richard Mathews, a software engineer and environmental advocate who is running for the 27th Senate District seat to replace retiring Democratic state Sen. Fran Pavley.

Of course not everyone is on board with climate change.

Herb Gooch, political science professor at Cal Lutheran University, said even some of those who agree that climate change is real say the link to human activities is flawed.

“Some might agree there is man-made climate change and that we can find solutions, but then argue the solutions proposed are costly and unworkable,” Gooch said.

Expending funds and resources to limit greenhouse emissions could jeopardize economic growth in the U.S. and make it harder for the country to compete with China and other countries whose restrictions are fewer, he said.

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