By Jordan Darling, Editorial Intern
When you Google “How many oil refineries are there in Wilmington and Carson,” Google Maps opens a drawn screenshot of the area and 11 red tags pop up clustered together between San Pedro and Compton.
“Refineries reported approximately 22,000 tons of hazardous air pollution to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010,” EarthJustice, an environmental coalition based in San Francisco, states in its website.
That is 22,000 tons of toxins released into the air over communities in the United States with 17 refineries in California and 11 throughout Southern California. The most at risk are people in poor socio-economic areas, mainly minorities. Toxins released from refineries can increase the chance of cancer and other detrimental health concerns.
The fight between climate change activists and refineries continues to be a prevalent topic as communities push to have refineries moved away from neighborhoods and homes.
In a 2019 study, PEW Research recorded that 56 percent of adults felt that climate change should be a top priority for the legislature. With the 2020 election cycle quickly approaching, it is a hot button topic for a lot of voters, especially those feeling the effects of living in a community centered around oil refineries.
Wilmington and Carson fall under District 64, which encompasses parts of Southern Los Angeles and the South Bay. The candidate standoff is between Fatima Iqbal-Zubair who took 32.5 percent of the vote and incumbent Mike Gipson, who took 67.5 percent.
Iqbal-Zubair is a public school science teacher working in Watts, a community advocate and a member of the Watts Rising Leadership Council. Her main concern is providing basic needs for the community and everything that encompasses.
“Basic needs is clean water everywhere, basic needs are good air quality, also clean food everywhere and eliminating food deserts [in] neighborhoods,” Iqbal-Zubair said. “Stopdrilling that is three to 10 feet away from a home. It is reducing emissions, banning fracking and any new fracking. Creating a 2,500 buffer zone between any drilling and places where people live, pray or work.”
Iqbal-Zubair said that she wants to support new green infrastructure and work with the solar industry. She said that part of the reason she is running for political office is that her opponent has received money from refineries and she hopes that she can make the refineries change their unsafe practices by holding them accountable and eventually supporting the transition to renewable energy.
Iqbal-Zubair was born and raised in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and completed her undergraduate work at the Ramapo College in New Jersey in 2005 before moving to the West Coast and completing her graduate work through Sint Eustatius School of Medicine and California State University, Dominguez Hills in 2016.
She has been a member of the community for the past 10 years after she and her family settled into a house in Carson. Iqbal-Zubair fell in love with the diversity of the area and wanted to do her part as a teacher and advocate in Watts.
Her inspiration and passion to pursue a socio-economic change in the community was inspired by her work as a chemistry teacher at Animo Preparatory Academy in Watts, California. Iqbal-Zubair introduced the school’s robotics club before leaving the world of education to make changes on a government scale.
“Knowing my students’ stories and putting it together with community representation, clean water, clean streets and clean air made me angry and passionate,” Iqbal-Zubair said. “[It] made me want to do it the right way. No special interest money, talk the talk and walk the walk.”
Iqbal-Zubair has a bit of experience in local government as a member of the Watts Rising Leadership Council, a group of people chosen by the community to represent the interests of the residents of Watts and connecting those voices to the Los Angeles City Council. She has already fought for environmental change on a local level.
“It is about bringing the New Green Deal to Watts,” Iqbal-Zubair said. “Twenty-five projects, electric buses, new affordable housing with solar technology. It is making sure there is community engagement and the right questions are being asked to make the community better and make sure it is what the community wants and you’re not displacing them.”
In October of 2019, Iqbal-Zubair became involved with Sunrise Movement Los Angeles through another activist. Iqbal-Zubair said that there was a mutual agreement to work with the Sunrise Movement, she applied for endorsement through their political committee and then the movement sent her a questionnaire to see how they could help her campaign.
The Sunrise Movement is a Washington D.C.-based super political action committee that relies on grassroots youth-led movements to push for climate reform. The PAC has 290 hubs throughout the United States all focused on fighting for reform by uniting people across the board.
“We build our people’s power by talking to people,” the Sunrise Movement website states. “We also grow our people’s power through escalated moral protest.”
The movement has a five-part plan they would like to see implemented.
“STAGE 1, 2017: Launch the movement; STAGE 2, 2018: Make climate change matter in the midterm election; STAGE 3, 2019: Make the entire country feel the urgency of the crisis; STAGE 4, 2020: Win governing power by bringing it home through the 2020 general election; STAGE 5, 2021: Engage in mass noncooperation to interrupt business as usual and win a Green New Deal,” Sunrise Movement’s website said.
Part of implementing their plan is working with candidates like Iqbal-Zubair, who support the Green New Deal and are pushing for reform.
“The main thing for endorsement [is working with] candidates we are familiar with,” Ricci Sergienko, a political activist with the Los Angeles Hub for the Sunrise Movement said. “It’s one thing to have the rhetoric that they believe in climate change, it is another thing to actually get involved and come out and support the movements that are on the ground in their local area.”
Iqbal-Zubair’s work within her community and her pledge to “talking the talk and walking the walk” make her a prime candidate to work with Sunrise Movement.
“She supports the Green New Deal, that will push California to be 100% green by 2030, investing in public schools and housing,” Sergienko said. “The person she is running against, Mike Gipson, has been taking money from oil companies … Communities are heavily impacted by oil and gas companies, especially the Port of Los Angeles. The incumbents will feel the pressure from the candidates we’ve endorsed.”
The Green New Deal is a 10-year plan to make the push to have 100 percent renewable clean energy by 2030. It promises to create 20 million jobs by focusing on 100 percent renewable energy and investing in public transit and sustainable agriculture.
Iqbal-Zubair said she is in full support of the campaign and hopes to work with fellow legislatures to implement it.
“I am running not because I planned to run. [I am] authentically running for the community, [this is] not a stepping stone,” Iqbal-Zubair said.