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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the League of United Latin American Citizens National Convention and Exposition, As Prepared

07/15/2009
Watch the video of Administrator Jackson's remarks.

As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for the opportunity to be part of your 80th annual meeting. I’m here at LULAC, along with my colleague Nancy Sutley from the White House Council on Environmental Quality for one simple purpose: to extend a hand in partnership.

As part of that partnership, we want to have a few long-overdue conversations, and get moving forward together on critical environmental issues. We’re doing that for a number of reasons, but let me just mention two.

The first is that we know there is untapped energy in the Latino community for action to protect our health and preserve our environment.

Last year, the Pew Center on Hispanics asked Latinos across America about the top agenda items for the Obama administration. More than 90 percent said that the environment was a priority, and more than 85 percent named energy policy. According to a separate survey by The Sierra Club, more than 80 percent of Hispanic voters believe that environmental issues impact their quality of life. They’re right – and that’s why I’m here.

More than 75 percent believe that global warming is a real threat to our country. They’re right – and that’s why I’m here. 8 in 10 Latinos believe our nation’s energy supply and costs have a substantial impact on the environment and a majority believe in the potential for millions of jobs through a clean energy economy. They too are right – and that’s why I’m here.

Finally more than 70 percent of Latinos surveyed said they would be willing to take political action on the environment. If that’s right, then I’m definitely glad I’m here.

We saw a great example of this recently with the work that people have done – here and all over the country – to nominate El Yunque National Forest to the New 7 Wonders of the Natural World contest. That effort has moved El Yunque into the second round of 77 and is giving is giving it a great chance to be one of the final seven. And I wish you all luck in that. It’s a telling example of the potential to engage with these issues and shape this debate.

A second reason we’re here is that we see all around us an extraordinary need for Latino voices to be heard.

Let me share with you a few more numbers:

Nearly nine in ten farm workers nationwide are Hispanic. They suffer a much higher exposure to dangerous pesticides and other chemicals. Among minority communities, Latino children have the highest rates of leukemia in the nation. Nearly 30 million Latinos – 72 percent of the US Latino population – live in places that don’t meet US air pollution standards. Nearly 29 million live in areas that don’t meet standards for ozone.

That in many ways explains the struggles with asthma that face Latinos in America – something that the people here in Puerto Rico are all too familiar with. Puerto Rican’s have the highest asthma rates of any group in the US – 125 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites and 80 percent higher than African Americans. They face an asthma death rate that is 360 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites.

These are the tragic consequences of being on the margins of this conversation. We see it in those broader trends, and we see it in examples like Vieques Island, where we need the continued involvement of the community.

To channel the concerns and the needs of Latino communities into empowered action, we need to expand the idea of environmentalism.

The inauguration of the first African American president, and my subsequent confirmation as the first African American Administrator of this Agency, has forever changed the face of environmentalism in this country. It sends a clear signal that environmentalism does not come in any one shape, any one size, or any one look. Or from any one region.

We’re trying to make sure that the EPA and the environmental movement in general represents the full spectrum of voices and concerns from across the country.

I often think back to when I finished graduate school. There was only one place for people who were talented, smart, and passionate about protecting the environment – and that was the EPA. We must return to that. I want to make sure we are building the best, the brightest, and the most diverse EPA ever.

Our work is not just about protecting remote wilderness or saving the polar ice caps. As important as those things are, environmentalism must also be about protecting people in the places where they live, work, and raise families. It’s about making our urban and suburban neighborhoods safe and clean, about protecting children in their schools, and workers at their jobs.

We have to meet people where they are, and talk to them about environmental issues in language that they understand and that they can respond to. In this case, we take that literally. EPA continues to make more and more of its materials available in translation. Our news releases, fact sheets, environmental health information and more are now published in Spanish. We even have a Twitter feed in Spanish.

We also have an initiative call the Beyond Translation, which seeks meaningful dialogue with community leaders, small business owners, representatives from faith-based organizations and academia. We want to not only provide information, but help these communities use that information for action. Forums have been held in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.

The bottom line is that we have to go to every community and impress upon them that the issues of environmental protection are their issues, that their work is our work, and that their struggles are our struggles. So we have a number of programs in place to do just that.

To name some that are happening here in Puerto Rico, EPA is working with the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Turabo to train nearly 500 asthma instructors. They’ve now reached 10,000 asthma patients and conducted over 250 in-home visits.

And I’m happy to report that between 2006 and 2007 the Puerto Rico Department of Health reported a significant decrease in lifetime asthma. Parents have reported a 50% increase in symptom-free days. As the mother of a son with asthma, I can tell you how much that means to those families.

One hundred and sixty schools on the island have implemented EPA's Indoor Air Quality “Tools for Schools.” Those schools have seen a 50% reduction in absences and a 50% increase in symptom-free days.

Working with the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, the Department of Transportation, and other local officials, EPA has helped form the Northeast Diesel Collaborative Puerto Rico Committee to develop clean diesel projects. Not only does that clean the air, it also helps promote energy innovations and new jobs for local communities.

On the national scale, EPA has been working on an environmental program with its Mexican counterpart SEMARNAT for over 17 years. We have taken concrete steps to produce environmental results benefiting more than 7 million residents along the southern border – including the 1.5 million who live without potable water and sanitation services, in colonias along US-Mexico border.

Our National Center for Environmental Research has a variety of grant programs to encourage promising students in environmental fields. Since 2000, the Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowship Program has awarded $3.5 million in fellowships to Hispanic students, helping them move into scientific careers.

We are also, of course, working through the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between EPA and LULAC, which has provided a platform for us to improve our Hispanic outreach and education. I want to recognize Tex Gomez, who is here with us today. Tex spearheaded the work on this MOU, and has been an integral part of its success. Thank you, Tex. I’m proud to say that, building on the work of Tex and so many others, EPA and LULAC have extended our agreement through December 31, 2012.

These are a start. But in this moment of exceptional challenge, there is much more to be done.

We have a long list of urgent environmental issues to confront in the years ahead. For that, we need new advocates striving to protect the health of their communities. We have to bring forward new leaders to save our planet. And we need this community to play a role in the debate our nation is having right now.

We want to ensure that Latinos are securing the green jobs of the clean energy future. We want to ensure that they are being heard when they call for cleaner land, air, and water, and the protections they need to safeguard the health of their children. As the leaders of the Latino community, I’m challenging you to carry the banner with us.

There are powerful voices calling for change in our immigration policy, our health care system, and our economy. Help us raise those voices to call for change in our nation's environmental and energy future.

Help us broaden the idea of environmentalism to welcome and engage Latinos. Use the influence you have to shed light on the devastating health and environmental threats in your communities. Make that part of the mainstream discussion we’re having on environmental action. And help ensure that the EPA better reflects the communities we serve. Put us up front at those career fairs, and remind the people you know that EPA is eager to have their perspective and experience as part of our efforts.

This is an important moment: EPA is once again guided by an ambitious vision of public health protection and environmental preservation. And Latinos in America are increasingly concerned about these issues. We need your help to connect the dots.

I am here on behalf of President Obama to say that – on this and so many other issues – we’re asking for your partnership, and counting on your leadership. I look forward to working with you. Thank you very much.