Environmental Justice Is a Latino Issue and Will Influence Our Vote

Christopher Craig/Flickr

Christopher Craig/Flickr

Following President Obama’s final State of the Union Address, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow asked Senator Bernie Sanders for his reaction to the president’s remarks. Without hesitation, Senator Sanders responded that the single most poignant example the president offered for how change can be used to better the lives of our people is in President Obama’s examples of how we can address climate change as a country.

This is not the first time that Bernie Sanders has elevated the issue of climate change in his remarks. Throughout the debates, the senator passionately speaks about the fact that the biggest threat to national security is the impact of climate change. For Latinos, addressing climate change and protecting the environment are critically important, and the urgency for strong action could not be higher. We are far too often at the epicenter of the most adverse impacts of climate change.

Our communities are frequently the most vulnerable in the aftermath of extreme weather events, and we have higher incidences of health disparities as a direct result of environmental degradation. Access to food and water brought on by increased drought and changes to crop-conducive weather patterns are all hitting Latino communities first and intensifying susceptibilities they already face such as poverty, chronic health conditions and inadequate infrastructure.

More and more, Latino communities are advocating for bold solutions and strong action to turn the tide on pollution-driven climate change and protect the environment. Many of us who have worked at the intersection between social and environmental justice for decades have no doubt that Bernie’s environmental policy proposals will best serve Latinos and the country as a whole.

Bernie has called for a national environmental and climate justice plan that recognizes the heightened public health risks faced by low-income and minority communities. He has proposed instituting a price on carbon that prioritizes protections for low-income and minority communities most impacted by pollution and economic transition.

The senator has also called for a ban on fracking, something that Latino communities all over the country from New York to California and Texas to Colorado have stood up to and said they don’t want happening in their backyards. His plan proposes millions in funding for low-income and environmental justice communities to help them strengthen their resiliency and prepares them for the impacts of climate change.

Latino communities face higher incidences of health disparities as a result of environmental pollution. Our communities have lower wages and less job security on average, and are less able to cope with fluctuations in food and energy prices. Latino workers are more likely to serve in construction, agricultural and food production industries — all of which are susceptible to greater job losses and higher workplace injuries that are directly attributable to impacts from climate change.

We need a president who understands the important role that strong and protective environmental policies will have on the health, prosperity and security of U.S. Latinos. That is why Latinos concerned with the environment should vote for Bernie Sanders.

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Chris Espinosa serves as the legislative representative for Earthjustice covering clean water and surface mining federal public policy for the organization, with nearly a decade of federal public policy, coalition-building and advocacy experience in Washington, D.C. Prior to Earthjustice, Chris served as the senior legislative assistant to Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA), covering a broad policy portfolio on behalf of the congresswoman. Chris has also served in senior leadership positions with some of the nation’s most well-respected Hispanic advocacy institutions — including as national director of policy & legislation for Hispanic Federation, national director of special projects for the League of United Latin American Citizens, and deputy director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. You can follow him on Twitter @DC_Espinosa.

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