OCEANSIDE, Calif. (CN) – Hundreds of Southern California residents packed a high school auditorium Saturday for Rep. Mike Levin’s first town hall where the freshman congressman focused heavily on environmental concerns, including the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) just minutes down the freeway from his family’s home.
Levin, an environmental attorney, was elected in November as part of the “blue wave” which drowned many long-held Republican districts in Orange County. He represents the 49th District which includes south Orange County and North Coastal San Diego County, including San Clemente, where the decommissioning process at SONGS to bury spent nuclear waste on the beach started last year.
Many of the attendees at the town hall Saturday afternoon at Oceanside High School gave Levin a standing ovation when he came out on stage.
Levin said it is “incredibly important to me we have an ongoing dialogue” and that he plans to have monthly town hall meetings throughout his SoCal district.
Levin acknowledged the government shutdown had ended before pointing out he voted 11 times to reopen the government.
“We have to make sure we don’t have a precedent where every time we have a partisan disagreement we shut down the government,” Levin said.
The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of Levin, who addressed veteran’s issues, money in politics and the crisis involving asylum seeking families at San Diego’s border with Mexico.
“It is absolutely necessary to have an immigration policy focused on both security and humanity,” Levin said in noting 90 percent of drugs which cross the border come directly through ports of entry, a fact politicians along the border have cited in calling for more resources at ports of entry rather than building walls or fences.
Levin said House Democrats plan to introduce a $1 billion funding package next week which includes half a billion in humanitarian aid to the South American countries most asylum seekers are fleeing and another half billion to hire more immigration judges and other support to speed up the asylum process.
But for the majority of the town hall, Levin fielded questions from constituents about environmental issues mainly focused around SONGS and the nuclear waste being stored on the beach until a permanent repository is created through congressional legislation.
Levin said San Onofre “should not be a partisan issue” and that there was “no more important local environmental issue” than the nuclear waste storage at San Onofre.
On Friday, Levin announced he is launching a task force of stakeholders and experts “with the goal of driving solutions to move and safely store sensitive waste located at SONGS,” which will be led by former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko and retired Rear Admiral Leendert “Len” Hering Sr.
Levin and a handful of other Southern California congress members sent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a letter last week asking that a hearing considering whether to impose penalties on Southern California Edison for the near-drop of a filled nuclear waste canister be moved to his district so residents who live near the plant could attend.
The commission declined to move the meeting from Arlington, Texas.
Ultimately, Levin said he believes there needs to be a comprehensive nuclear waste policy at the federal level and that a federal agency should be created whose sole responsibility is to clean-up spent nuclear fuel sites.
“I live 11 minutes away door-to-door,” Levin noted in saying a potential nuclear accident would be “devastating, catastrophic.
“It will be us, not the utility, not the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission], not the Trump administration, that solves this, because we live here and we care the most,” Levin said.
In an interview with reporters following the town hall, Levin said the nuclear waste canister storage system manufactured by Holtec International “has been a lemon to the extent that there are significant problems with it.”
“To be fair to Holtec, I haven’t met with the CEO of Holtec. I haven’t met with the leadership of Holtec. All I’ve done is read, I’ve researched and I’ve listened to a lot of smart people in the community who know a lot more about it than I do,” Levin said.
Levin said he hopes to be selected next week to serve on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. He said the San Onofre task force will likely hold its first meeting Feb. 20.