On the occasion of Earth Day, Latino organizations from California to the District of Columbia are asking federal agencies and managing authorities to prioritize public health and the health of public lands as they endeavor to fulfill national energy needs.
“We are calling on Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to encourage balanced approaches to energy development, protecting public lands, wildlife and clean air and clean water,” said Rod Torrez, of HECHO, an organization of Latinos who support conservation and access to public lands.
Maite Arce, CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation added, “Hispanics look at preserving our public lands from both a spiritual and family-oriented perspective – this community believes we have a moral obligation to protect the environment.”
Historically, fuel infrastructure like refineries for oil, have been centered in largely low-income communities of color. Because of this, Latinos have disproportionally suffered from asthma, cancer, and other pollution-related illnesses stemming from America’s dependence on fossil fuels. Adding to the problem, new fossil fuel energy development efforts like hydraulic fracturing continue to center around economically disadvantaged areas, crowding out less toxic alternative energy development options.
“Presenting only a jobs vs. environment argument to the Latino community is a false dichotomy, an unjust choice that touts extraction methods like fracking at the expense of our health and safety as the only available options. Furthermore, it is important to show that the value and use of these public lands exists beyond just resource extraction—these are places where the community has new or traditional connections with the land.” said Jose Gonzalez, Director of Latino Outdoors.
“At a time when industrial contamination in California water forces families to spend their hard-earned money on bottled water, public health and water rights should be strong considerations of energy development plans in the west” said Marce Gutiérrez, Director of Azul.
“President Obama has promised to grow our country’s clean energy economy as a way to reduce climate disruption pollution,” said Refugio Mata, Campaign Manager for Presente.org. “To use public lands for gas, oil, coal, and other dirty energy production contradicts that promise. Latinos and other communities of color stand to benefit the most from expansion of clean energy jobs–solar, wind, geothermal, etc. We also stand to lose the most from pumping more toxic fossil fuel pollution into the air we breathe, as our neighborhoods already tend to suffer from the poorest air quality conditions.”
Latinos across the country, especially in the West, where energy development is increasing, are ready and willing stakeholders that can contribute an important perspective to the planning process—ensuring a smarter, comprehensive approach that can best guarantee that the public wellbeing of the land and people drives energy development in our country.