Climate action is a top priority in the 21st Century Latino Agenda

By: Sindy Benavides, CEO of LULAC, and Esther Sosa, Project Manager at EDF

In the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequities in nearly every aspect of life, illustrating the frustrating reality that today, national crises affect everyone but do not impact everyone equally. Similarly, climate change poses a more devastating threat to Latino families. Threats are already felt and cannot be ignored: hurricanes displaced millions in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, fieldworkers face job and food insecurity due to historic droughts, extreme climatic conditions pose a threat to our archaic energy system. In Texas, a winter storm left millions without power and clean water. These climate disasters disproportionately impact the wellbeing, health, and future of Latino families.

As the Biden-Harris Administration works with Congress to rebuild our economy, they must prioritize policies that address the health, economic, and environmental needs of the Latino community. That is why our organizations – the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) – recently joined forces with Corazón Latino, Hispanic Access Foundation, Hispanic Federation, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and GreenLatinos to host one of a series of conversations to help us build a 21st Century Latino Agenda.

Emmy Award-winning journalist and senior correspondent for Noticias Telemundo, Vanessa Hauc, moderate the conversation, which included Dr. Cecilia Martínez, Senior Director for Environmental Justice in President Biden’s White House Council on Environmental Quality, Tomás Carbonell, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Stationary Sources in the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Dr. Gerald Torres, Professor of Environmental Justice at Yale’s School of the Environment.

The conversation emphasized the importance of an equitable rebuilding of our economy, one that reflects the threats of a changing climate. As we strategize about our recovery, we must use history as our guiding star to address the systemic disadvantages that enabled such disparate effects. The discussion also served to reinforce three points: environmental justice is at the center of this administration’s national agenda, the clean energy transition must leave no one behind, and voting and a just recovery are intertwined.

A national agenda centered on Environmental Justice

Each of the Town Hall speakers emphasized that we are now at a unique moment in history to address the inequities of climate change and air pollution, to bring meaningful, lasting change to our communities with the Administration’s focus to “Build Back Better.”

Environmental Justice has long been under-prioritized on our national agenda – but it is finally taking center stage. Dr. Martínez explained that the Biden-Harris Administration is taking a whole-of-government approach and understands that everything from education to transportation, public health, and housing is related to climate justice. “Hearing the President say ‘environmental justice is central’ is huge – it means the Administration will use environmental justice as the lens through which all other programs are seen. That is critically important, and it makes me very optimistic,” Dr. Torres shared.

“For the first time, we have an Administration that is placing environmental justice at the center of its agenda,” said Mr. Carbonell. “I believe the only way to ensure a safe and healthy environment for everyone in this country is to undertake authentic engagement with communities of color and to work in partnership with them as we carry out that agenda.”

A clean energy transition that leaves no one behind

A just transition must be centered around the communities that have been historically underinvested in, and face the brunt of our nation’s pollution, as well as people whose current livelihoods depends on the fossil fuel industry. As we rebuild, we must ensure the benefits are equitably distributed, and that  new solutions do not continue to perpetuate inequities, meaning we cannot transfer the economic or pollution burden to other communities and areas.

As Dr. Martínez explained, the “whole-of-government” approach is essential to ensure that those currently working in the fossil fuel industry are not left behind in the new green economy – we can provide family sustaining jobs and a healthy environment for everyone.

The importance of voting

Recognizing that the most damaging consequences of climate change – including sea level rise, higher temperatures, increased air pollution and their health burdens – fall first and worst on the shoulders of Latinos and other communities of color, we must ensure that eligible voters turnout in every election. “Historically, the most loyal green voters are Latinos, so if you’re not registering voters, you’re not doing environmental work,” said Dr. Torres.

So long as Latinos remain engaged in the civic process and hold elected officials accountable on climate, there is reason for hope and optimism. Vanessa Hauc shared, “We have a powerful connection with our planet. It is something that runs in our DNA and our blood.”

We are hopeful that this bond will guide us all to keep working for progress, and as Dr. Martinez said, “ensure our elected officials bring science and policy together to address these critical problems for our human communities, but also our mother earth. These programs don’t just benefit Latinos – they will produce benefits for everyone.”

We are reinvigorated by this administration’s commitment to a just future. As we continue the work to ensure that frontline communities reap the benefits of the green transition, we are inspired by the people engaging in these hard conversations and pushing us to think outside the box. Today we are presented with an opportunity to do things differently and we must work to seize it because the life of our communities depends on our success.

This Town Hall aired live on March 10, 2021. To watch the recorded video, click here.

Sindy Benavides is the Chief Executive Officer for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the country. Esther Sosa is the project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Federal Partnerships initiative, which focuses on building and expanding a network of allies to support climate-related advocacy efforts.


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