Opinion | Energy & Environment

Climate change has already hit Latino communities

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

 

The focus on our climate is ramping up within the Latino community. Climate change is leading to higher temperatures and record-setting heat waves, drier and more arid conditions in the Southwest, and more frequent and severe droughts. These conditions are having troubling consequences on public health and access to services, job security and economic productivity.

And, Latino communities are disproportionately impacted by these conditions and lack of access to prepare for or adapt to them. According to a 2018 Latino Decisions poll, Latinos are more likely to report that they have directly experienced climate change effects. They also strongly believe that Congress should take action to aggressively combat global warming or climate change, reduce smog and pollution and pass clean energy legislation. 

When you take this perspective and couple it with the growing electoral power of the Latino community, you find a political force that not only has the potential to shift the balance on climate issues, but a mounting desire to do so.

For example, Latinos are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution, and 51 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone than are non-Hispanic whites. While 80 percent of farmworkers in the U.S. are Latino, 16.8 percent of all Latinos are natural resource laborers (agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting), compared to 10.3 percent of whites. Higher temperatures, heat waves, drought and wildfires are leading to a disproportionate impact on Latino laborers.

Latinos communities bear disproportionate loads of pollution; and we know all too well that compared to white children, Latino children are twice as likely to die from asthma attacks.  These higher fatality rates correspond with a closer proximity to power plants: two in five Latinos live within 30 miles of a power plant.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) regulation, which created national limits on the amount of mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollutants that power plants can emit that harm human and environmental health. According a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress, between 2011 and 2017, mercury emissions from power plants dropped by 81.7 percent. This not only benefits air quality, but also the health of all communities, estimating the yearly prevention of 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heat attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 5,700 hospital and emergency rooms visits.

The Trump administration and the EPA, led by Andrew Wheeler, are looking to roll back these MATS and other Clean Air Act regulations. With only days remaining for the American people to provide public comment on this rollback, it is important for all of us to make our voices heard and submit comments to the EPA before April 17.

Latino voters are not only becoming increasingly aware of the importance of policies such as the Clean Air Act and regulations such as MATS, we are ready for Congress to take action to address climate change and air pollution from the fossil fuel industry, prepare for and mitigate extreme heat and drought, and protect our nation's precious water resources.

We want global warming addressed, renewable energy encouraged, our air quality secured, water sources preserved and adaptation and community resilience to wildfires. And polling data shows that Latinos are more likely to vote for candidates that feel the same way.

From young liberal millennials to conservative faith leaders, Latinos across the political spectrum are putting their passion for the environment, protecting human health, and combating climate change into action. As we unlock our voting potential, our elected leaders at home and at the capitol need to take heed - they are officially on notice.

This is a moral obligation - a human rights issue - that transcends political parties. 

Chela Garcia is the director of Conservation Programs at Hispanic Access Foundation.

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