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Fueled by Climate Change, California's Raging Wildfires Are Threatening Vulnerable Communities First

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And so my concern about some of these campaigns that are playing out, particularly in San Francisco as well as in New York City, to try to turn existing private utilities into sort of city-owned public utilities, is that they are breaking up these larger utilities into smaller urban areas where of course we have progressives, and that's great, but what happens to the rest of the system?

And the fact is that actually public utilities in California have been some of the biggest opponents to the state's clean energy laws. In 2002, when the first clean energy law was passed, it applied to PG&E but did not apply to public utilities because they resisted it in the first place. So I think there is some complex history in terms of our rural electric co-ops in this country and our public utilities. And just saying that an ownership change will somehow fix all of these problems -- I don't really think that is quite true, although I do support the campaigns that people are running as a way to bring more attention to these really critical issues.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to finally ask Ariel Kelley about the situation of October being the peak fire month but also it is the time of the grape harvest. Looking at an article here, same as in 2017. "For farmworkers in Sonoma county's fabled wine country, the Kincade Fire poses a daunting set of risks. October -- not only fire season in California, also the peak of grape harvest. In areas not imminently threatened, some workers labored through the heat and dangerous smoke to retrieve some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of grapes that had yet to be harvested." Kaiser health news warning about the health risks that farmworkers are facing. What kind of warnings are you putting out? How are people being helped?

ARIEL KELLEY: So actually, I have direct information. I was there physically on Thursday morning when a group of farmworkers who were staying at our evacuation shelter in Healdsburg left the shelter to go back out to the fields to do just that, to go pick grapes, and left without masks, left on a bus with their employer. And it's heartbreaking.

I mean, this is environmental justice unfolding right before us. These workers are out there in incredibly smoky conditions. I would actually say dangerous conditions, with the fire risk being as high as it was in that moment.

And so I think it's a real issue for our community because there is just a level of lack of voice for those workers and being able to say, "I don't feel safe" or "I need a mask. I need a respirator." We need to be mandating that if workers are outdoors and they're working in these smoky conditions that they need to be given masks or forced to wear them by their employer just to protect their health. And I think looking at the long-term health impact of those outdoor workers, we know that there are some real life-threatening potential injuries that can occur in just being out there in those conditions. So it's very concerning.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Ariel Kelley, CEO of Corazón Healdsburg, a bilingual family resource center based in Northern Sonoma County. And thanks so much to Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher on climate and energy politics. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we're going to talk about Iraq, the massive protests that have rocked that country. Over 220 protesters now dead. Stay with us.

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