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Pictured: Incoming EPA Secretary Amelia Yana García González
Yana García has a demostrated presence in the environmental justice sector, where she's worked with Tribes to mediate relationships with state agencies. Photo: CalEPA

California appoints Latina to head its Environmental Protection Agency

The appointment follows the previous Secretary’s resignation in September.

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California’s top EPA office will have a new head, as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Amelia Yana García González, 38, to lead the agency as Secretary on Friday, Aug. 12. The position requires Senate confirmation. 

“She is a strategic and compassionate leader who played a central role in helping communities gain access to safe and affordable drinking water. Yana is known nationally as a groundbreaking environmentalist who has lifted up the voices of tribal nations, U.S.-Mexico border communities, and those struggling on the frontlines of the battle for environmental justice,” the statement read.

Her promotion follows Secretary Jared Blumenfeld’s plan to step down and go on to serve as inaugural president at a global climate change nonprofit. Prior to the announcement, she served in many leadership roles in the environmental sector. 

Yana, a Democrat, is no stranger to environmental justice. In 2017, she was Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs and was also an associate attorney for Communities for a Better Environment. 

During her time at Tribal Affairs, she combated notions that local tribes wouldn’t want to work with state agencies. In a meeting at California’s Berkeley University, she discussed varying topics surrounding tribes, government and representation within state-sponsored offices. 

“That assumption is obviously wrong, because when you think of environmental media it’s not like water contamination or soil contamination or air pollution stops at any form of a border,” Yana said.

“The assumption also lies in the fact that there’s a misconception I think that tribes don’t want to work with the state, that tribes only want to work with federal government, and in my experience that is not the case,” she continued.

Through her work, she mediated and consulted relationships between tribes and state agencies to rethink the current practices for approaching tribal grounds and said representation was key in developing those relationships. 

“More representation, more people of color,” she said when asked about what she would like to see in the future of that line of work. 

“Every time we think that we’ve made some progress, which is not to diminish the progress we’ve made, it’s still so apparent how much more progress we need to make,” she added.

At the time, she called current representation statistics “abhorrent.” 

Before she pursued law, she had a long resume of involvement with civil rights projects that sought to achieve access to clean air, water, and sustainable food systems across several states. 

After developing her legal practice, which largely focused on environmental justice work, she went on to hold several positions in CalEPA. 

If she is confirmed by the Senate, García will bring home a salary of $232,858.

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