By Lucía Oliva Hennelly, EDF Campaign Manager, New Climate Partnerships & Andy Vargas, EDF Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellow.
How important do you think it is that the next President and new Congress take steps to reduce smog and air pollution? What about actions to develop clean energy sources like wind and solar power?
These are a questions asked by Latino Decisions, a leading national polling firm, in a representative national poll of Latinos who voted in the 2016 elections. Latino Decisions research released this week shows that 75 percent of Latino voters believe it is extremely or very important that the next President and Congress take steps to reduce smog and air pollution. And 71 percent of Latino voters believe it is extremely or very important that the next President and Congress take steps to pass legislation to aggressively combat climate change. This was also found in key states including Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and Nevada.
While the results should not be surprising, they are noteworthy in a month when President-elect Donald Trump has nominated an environmental antagonist to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the CEO of ExxonMobil to lead the State Department.
These findings demonstrate that Latino communities care deeply about our environment, our changing climate, and how this impacts our families. The assumption that Latino voters only care about immigration reform — despite being disproportionately impacted by issues like air pollution and toxic exposure – needs to be discarded.
We already know that Latinos are more likely to experience the impacts of climate change and environmental pollution because of where we live and work. More than 24 million Latinos live in the 15 U.S. cities most heavily polluted by ozone smog, and over 1.8 million Latinos live within a half-mile of oil and gas development.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has also shown that Latinos are more likely to work in outdoor industries that are impacted most by extreme heat exacerbated by climate change. And estimates show that in California alone, the ongoing drought caused the loss of around 21,000 farming-related jobs — jobs occupied for the most part by Latinos.
What is perhaps most eye-catching in the Latino Decisions’ findings is that support for environmental and health protections was high among Latino voters across the country and across the board. Support for combating climate change, for clean energy, and for clean air dominated from Arizona to Ohio, Florida to Colorado. This was also true among Latino Republicans, 62 percent of whom reported that it is at least somewhat important to address climate change. And it was true among young Latinos, 75 percent of who believe it is very or extremely important for the new President and Congress to aggressively combat climate .
We can only expect Latino concern about the environment to grow as the nation experiences heightened climate impacts in places including California, Florida, New York, and Texas. More than 60 percent of Latinos in the U.S. live in these four states alone, all of which are extremely vulnerable to climate-related threats like severe heat, air pollution, and flooding.
We should also recall that while Latino support for environmental protections is very high, it is also in-line with broad public sentiment: for example, 69 percent of registered voters across party lines say the U.S. should participate in the Paris agreement to limit global warming. But it is particularly indicative of how lawmakers should think about the country’s future, as Latinos are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States with a population expected to double by 2050.
As we see increased impacts from climate change – from worsened air quality to exacerbated extreme weather — protecting Latino communities from these impacts is crucial. Lawmakers need to advance aggressive policies to tackle climate change, reduce pollution, and empower local communities to adapt to our changing climate, taking measures to ensure specific support for communities hit first and worst.
And as we prepare for a new political reality, now is the time that all Americans, Latino or not, must look to our leaders in Congress to ensure that the incoming Administration has our best interests and the future prosperity of the country at heart. With Latinos on the front lines of climate impacts, we can’t afford to wait four years for leaders that will reduce climate and air pollution and invest money in clean energy jobs like wind and solar. No one can.