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Listen: Atascadero's Steve Isakson discusses his independent run for Congress

Steve Isakson for Congress

From the moment Central Coast Congresswoman Lois Capps announced her plans to retire at the end of this term, candidates looking to fill her spot began to announce their intentions to run. 

KCBX is inviting each registered candidate onto Issues and Ideas in order to share their visions for the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, as well as a portion of Ventura County in the Los Padres National Forest.

Atascadero’s SteveIsakson is one of the latest to enter the race and is running without party affiliation. He is currently the Chief Engineer at Rantec Power Systems in Los Osos and has previously worked as a self-employed engineering consultant.

He has never held a publicly elected office.

Randol White: Welcome to “Issues and Ideas.”

Steve Isakson: Thank you very much.

RW: And just quickly, how long were you in Antartica? You were there during the time that planes could not come in and out.

SI: Fourteen months. For 10 of those months nobody came to visit at all. We were isolated.

RW: Five of you.

SI: Just five of us.

RW: Anyone who’s seen “The Martian” recently can relate to what it was somewhat like, you know, for you during that period. OK, back to the topic at hand. This is not your first time running for this Congressional seat. You ran in 2014 as well. Can you explain what drives you to run for it each term?

SI: What drove me initially the first time was I looked at what Congress was doing, which was nothing. The dysfunction was horrible. Things such as when a bill comes to Congress proposed by the president, and it’s dead without even being read. It’s not been released yet and they just say it’s dead on the floor. That’s dysfunction. That’s just one party saying I’m going to stand on this side, you’re going to stand on that side and we won’t talk.

RW: And so how would you work to change that when a lot of people who run for Congress say they’re tired of how Congress is operating. Polls show that the American public is almost entirely on that side with them. What would be your method for getting things to work?

SI: Obviously I can’t do everything by myself but one advantage I would have as an independent is, and I will remain an independent, is both sides will talk to me. I could hold parties if need be and bring the two sides together because I’m somebody that’s not ‘the other side.’ Many decades ago off the floor the two sides were very friendly and attended parties and such. I gather at this point that’s almost probably nonexistent. I think it exists a little more in the Senate but not in the House. As an independent I can talk to each side, work with them, and hopefully benefit. The other point would be to encourage others to do the same thing. There’s more power in numbers to try to change the dysfunction that’s going on there now.

RW: Your website runs down some of the issues that you believe are important and I think it’s a good representative list of issues that are important to residents here on the central coast, so I want to touch on a few of those. On climate change you are not a denier but it’s more nuanced than that. Can you explain?

SI: I have little doubt that some climate change is occurring. But climate change in general is, in general everything’s warming up. You look at the drought right now. The fact that we’re having a drought isn’t really climate change. If you look at the cycles about every 22 years we have a major drought that lasts several years in this area. So the existence of the drought isn’t an indication of climate change. Now, this particular drought is a little bit longer than most droughts and we’ve seen that pattern in several cycles coming up.

RW: It’s more severe, with warmer temperatures.

SI: Yes, and so that may be an indication of climate change. Also, they used to call it global warming. Well, climate change isn’t necessarily global warming. It’s been shown that if things keep changing on the East Coast during the winters, it will simply get colder and things will ice over because of changes in the ocean. So climate change is something that’s occurring. There’s little doubt that emissions, carbon emissions and methane emissions, are contributing to that. It’s also—we will adapt to some of the climate change. Water, during a drought period, is pretty severe. If the droughts continues to get worse, that will get

RW: Yes. You said the government can help when it comes to our drought cycles and I assume you’re also referring to the groundwater situation in North County, San Luis Obispo. How exactly do you believe government intervention can play a constructive role in this area?

SI: Most of the action is probably on the local level, such as the desal plants, what have you, or putting in regulations for low-flow toilets, that sort of thing. But some of the research that can be done on more of the federal level is encourage more efficient watering techniques for the farmers even, to use less water. In California I think like 90% of the water usage is on farms so that’s a major area that could benefit from the research on how to reduce the water usage to go on at the federal level because that would be useful across the nation. They can also help fund, actually, believe it or not, power plants, the desal plants, their high cost is to a large extent, not totally, coming from the power usage. If we encourage more solar farms, for instance, that power could be transferred—if desal plants were actually building the solar plants, maybe with federal encouragement, federal funds, then the cost of desal plants would be decreased.

RW: Speaking of power plants, PG&E is currently asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew its operating permits for the two reactors at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. You say it may not make economic sense to continue its operation.

SI: Well, that would be true. Nuclear power is a very expensive form of power. It does have pluses and it’s a good baseline power feed for the network. Seven percent of the power comes from Diablo Canyon—for California R: For California. Yes, currently California depends heavily on Diablo. SI: So if you just cut it off you may see a lot of rolling blackouts because there’s limited power from here to there. But there are several solar farms now in the California Valley area, for instance, that have provided quite a bit of power and there’s plenty of room out there to expand that and create more power. I think that—and the cost of the solar power is actually getting to be less than maintaining Diablo Canyon. It would be in PG&E’s best interest to develop the facilities. There’d have to be storage that would go along with it to build out more solar farms and actually reduce the costs of running the PG&E system.

RW: How do you feel about Diablo from an environmental perspective? What about the waste and the concern about the seismic activity where Diablo is located?

SI: There are a lot of concerns with Diablo Canyon. I think in general nuclear power has proven relatively safe compared to carbon emissions and it does provide the base loads for some things. But I think the estimate on the Fukushima accident is something like $500 billion dollars of damages, and hey, accidents do happen. They may not be likely but they can happen and destruction of that nature, when nobody’s .responsible for it, and if the damages occur, PG&E’s liability is quite limited on that, and so it was designed for a 40- year life, and they’re trying to extend it to 60? I’d want to make sure that those safety plans are locked down to beyond question and I would personally just as soon do away with their release from liability, get rid of Price Anderson and make the shareholders of PG&E liable for any damages they do with the thing. That would encourge them, at least, to make sure it’s safe, because it’s their money that’s on the line.

RW: Since we’re talking energy, Phillips 66 is proposing a rail spur to the company’s Santa Maria refinery, just west of Nipomo, and communities all along the rail line are expressing concern over an increase in oil trains that this would create if approved. Can you share with us your thoughts on whether this project should move move forward in terms of bringing increased oil by train to the Phillips 66 refinery?

SI: From what I know of the situation in general I would tend to discourage it, because I don’t think rail is as safe—as many people say, despite the rates of accidents, pipelines seem to be a safer and more economical way to import it. Now what they’re talking about and I haven’t found any evidence of this, is just a temporary increase because we lost a pipeline and we need to look at maintenance, that might be feasible as long as they’re bringing in the safety needs to handle anything that happens. I can imagine rail cars going over the Cuesta Grade, well, it happens all the time, I’m certain, an accident along in that area, and some of the tight turns up there, it might be too probable. So I’d want to see them put some safety precautions in place. I’d prefer a limited lifetime while they make up, perhaps, for all the oil they’re losing from the breakage of the pipeline at this point.

RW: Yes, the breakage of that pipeline along the Gaviota coast really brought renewed attention to the oil-drilling operations in the Santa Barbara Channel. What are your thoughts on offshore drilling in California as a means to extract oil and gas?

SI: I don’t think there’s enough to justify the risks associated with it. I’ve seen enough studies, that area around Santa Barbara has actually sunk a little bit and from my background in physics I can understand how that might encourage a few earthquakes here and there over the years, not frequently, but it could happen. And certainly even during the middle of the oil spill cleanup some more oil was found that is believed just to be seepage from those areas, and so I would not tend to encourage it at all and certainly I would not want to see oil derricks off my coast anyway, that’s part of the reason I live here.

RW: Do you have similar thoughts on fracking as a means to extract oil and gas?

SI: Fracking concerns me even more because I saw one study that some of the fracking oils takes five times as much energy, to get six gallons out you have to put in five gallons, so you get a very small yield out of that and you’re just adding to the carbon emissions.

RW: Now, you say that it would not be wise to repeal at this point the Affordable Care Act known as ObamaCare. Can you talk a little bit about where we stand with that act and how you believe things should move forward?

SI: The Affordable Care Act has has provided insurance to more people, allowing them to get more medical care and it has benefited us in a lot of ways like doing away with pre-existing conditions. At one point I had troubles getting insurance because all the insurance companies wanted to put on a lot of pre- existing condtions, just in case, and so for a couple years it would be limited. So ObamaCare has been limited in that respect. It does seem that the costs for an awful lot of people have gone up and mostly those costs have been given to the insurance companies, is they’ve got, since you’re required to get insurance, they have a group of people who have to get insurance, so you can’t get out of it, so I think the costs have gone up for a variety of reasons, partially the benefits, partially the populace that has to get insurance. So I don’t want to get people out of it but I would like to see ways of getting costs down. One proposal some people make is the single payer system, because the overhead, usually the government system might be 5% overhead whereas insurance companies tend to charge 20% overhead more. I’d look into it. There are sometimes disadvantages on it so it has to be studied and I don’t have the details of all that. But I would like to bring the costs down rather than allowing people to go uninsured again.

RW: Do you see ObamaCare somewhat as like a hybrid car between gasoline and electric cars, there had to be sort of that inbetween?

SI: That’s what it’s appearing. It got it into place, it got people insured, providing it, the government’s involved with some of that but it’s a hybrid at this point.system where we didn’t want to interfere with industry at all but we still got some of the benefits.

RW: What are your views on campaign finance? You said prior to our interview that you likely won’t be bringing in the big money as some of the other candidates will in this race. How do you feel about that?

SI: A lot of the dysfunction occurring in Congress, in my opinion, is because the people there are getting their campaign funds from bigger donors, directly or indirectly, and they don’t want to upset the apple cart. Even Donald Trump at one of the debates recently was asked, you’ve given money to a lot of different candidates, why do you do that? “Well, it’s because I’m looking for favors,” was his reply, and I was taken aback that he even said that. It might be reality but for someone to nonchalantly say, well, I’m looking for favors, that’s why I’m giving out the money, while it might be legal, it tends to make everyody in Congress who’s taking said donations, you’re not really voting for them, you’re voting for their donors at that point, because they’re going to bend over backwards for their

RW: Well, Steve Isakson from Atascadero, the latest to enter the race for the 24th Congressional District, thank you so much for joining us here on “Issues and Ideas."

SI: Thank you very much, I appreciated your bringing me in.

RW: And you are listening to KCBX, central coast public radio. I’m Randol White.