Three Ways Texas’ Latino Communities can Fight Climate Change and Protect Health

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By Virginia Palacios, Senior Research Analyst

Daily Ozone Air Quality Index in Texas for August 28, 2015 via AIRNow. Orange indicates that air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Daily Ozone Air Quality Index in Texas for August 28, 2015 via AIRNow. Orange indicates that air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Growing up in the heat of South Texas, praying for rain was a daily ritual. Droughts are common there, and climate change is making them more intense and thus more devastating. Yet Texans are surrounded by inaccurate political messages that cast doubt on evidence that humans are causing climate change. This kind of rhetoric is physically and economically harmful, especially to the 40 percent of Texans who are Hispanic or Latino, because these populations are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has partnered with League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to raise awareness and action on environmental issues that impact our health. LULAC is the largest and oldest nationwide Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S.  Recently, I had the honor of speaking with the Greater Houston LULAC Council at their monthly breakfast about how climate change impacts Latinos in Texas. Juan Parras, Founder and Director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), joined me at the event and drove the point home by discussing how climate change and industrial pollution is affecting Latinos in Houston. Together, we sought to inform our audience of the role they can play to stop damaging rhetoric and get involved to support climate change solutions and public health protections.

Climate change represents major challenges for Texans. In recent years, climate change has been associated with increased intensity of at least three extreme weather events that impacted Texas: Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the record drought in 2011, and this year’s Memorial Day flooding.  These events demonstrate that climate change is not some far off possibility – it may already be influencing major destruction in Texas, bringing with it immediate human health impacts – and Latinos are especially vulnerable.

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The good news is, we can cut greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that is exacerbated by climate change. Three federal measures currently aim to do just that, and will directly benefit Texas’ Hispanic and Latino populations:

1. America’s Clean Power Plan

America’s Clean Power Plan marks the first time the U.S. will place limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The plan will significantly cut our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, in part by incentivizing energy efficiency projects in low-income communities and requiring states to meaningfully engage with vulnerable populations including minority and tribal communities.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Power Plan will avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days. As my colleague, Lucía Oliva Hennelly, recently wrote, the plan will also provide significant savings and job opportunities for Latinos. You can write to your representative and tell them to support these strong climate standards.

2. National methane pollution standards for the oil and gas industry

The oil and gas sector holds an enormous opportunity for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting public health. While natural gas burns cleaner than coal, the oil and gas supply chain emits massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is responsible for about one-quarter of the manmade global warming we are experiencing today.

That’s why EPA recently proposed new standards to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. EPA will be in Dallas September 23, 2015 for a public hearing about how these rules impact communities.  If you live near oil and gas development, this public comment period provides the opportunity to share your voice in support of reducing these dangerous emissions. Register by September 18th to speak at the hearing, or submit comments in writing by October 26th.

3. Updated national health-based standards for ground-level ozone.

In addition to contributing to global warming, methane leaks from the oil and gas sector often contain other pollutants that contribute to ozone (also known as smog) and impact public health. But that’s not all: hotter, drier climates will increase the frequency of days with unhealthy levels of ozone. Thankfully, in October the EPA is expected to release its final updated standard for ground-level ozone, also known as smog.

Ozone is associated with asthma attacks, increased hospital admissions, and mortality rates. Already, nearly 1 in 2 Latinos live in counties with unhealthy ozone levels. The EPA’s life-saving measure is already under attack by certain members of Congress, but you can defend your community by signing our online petition.

Local LULAC councils in Texas offer a venue for sharing information, organizing, and amplifying the voice of Latino communities. The health effects and destruction aggravated by climate change present excessive risks to Latino populations. Fortunately, the federal government is proposing three efforts to address these problems, but these proposed solutions need all people, including Latino populations in Texas, to learn and speak up about what it means to us.

Photo source: AIRnow

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