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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks to Congressional Hispanic Caucus, As Prepared

09/30/2013
Thank you so much, Congressman Grijalva and the all other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I’m thrilled to have the chance to address this group today.

At EPA, our mission has always been to protect public health and the environment - using all tools at our disposal to make a difference in our communities. That’s what I want to discuss today. The ways EPA is working to improve the environment and reduce health disparities, especially in Hispanic communities.

I want to also make a commitment upfront - let today mark the beginning of an improved, reinvigorated partnership with the CHC and its constituents. Here are some reasons why we need to intensify our efforts:

In 2009, about 70 percent of Hispanic children lived where air quality standards were subpar. In the United States, nearly 1 in 10 children live with asthma every day. Those most affected live in lower income communities and communities of color. Puerto Rican children have among the highest levels of reported current asthma as compared to all other race/ethnicity groups.

And the list goes on. The complications of asthma are—literally—breathtaking. Yes, it means more hospital visits and more medicine, but it also means more missed school days, and a higher incidence of obesity due to less exercise. Alarming data like this explains why environmental justice and children’s health are critical to EPA’s work. The good news is we are taking action.

Last year, we launched the coordinated federal action plan to reduce racial and ethnic asthma disparities. The plan pools government resource to address asthma in particularly vulnerable children. Collaborative projects include training children and families on asthma trigger management and implementing smoke-free public housing policies. And of course one significant way we fight health disparities is to ensure access to quality health care. The Affordable Care Act will help by connecting people to high-quality, affordable health insurance through the new exchanges, Medicaid expansion, and consumer protections like prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

And to be abundantly clear, if we are serious about addressing large scale public health disparities, especially for our children, we must be serious about reducing carbon pollution and fighting climate change. If you think about it, with projections for more extreme weather, isn’t it exactly these same communities that are most at risk in a changing climate? In 2012 alone, the cost of weather disasters exceeded $110 billion in the United States, the second costliest year on record.

Just recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released their Hurricane Sandy rebuilding strategy, a report recognizing the disproportionate burden that communities of color bear when disasters strike. EPA must work with states, tribes, local governments and community leaders, especially those that are already facing disproportionate environmental impacts, including the Hispanic community.

Only together can we prepare our infrastructure for a changing climate and to build the resilience future generations need. Through EPA programs like our Urban Waters Federal Partnership and the Partnership for Sustainable Communities we can do something about it. For example, EPA supports a project in the city of Nampa, Idaho, to prepare the city for negative storm water impacts in the region. Nampa happens to be one of the fastest growing Hispanic communities in the area.

Climate change is not just about extreme weather. It’s also about clean, healthy air for us to breathe. The carbon pollution that fuels climate change brings about hotter weather, worsening levels of pollen and smog. This leads to longer allergy seasons and increased heat-related deaths, and direct threats to those who suffer from lung and heart illnesses. Our climate problems are worse in communities of color. The urgency to act on climate change couldn’t be clearer.

For these reasons, in late June President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan. A plan to protect the health of our families and future generations by taking responsible steps to cut the carbon pollution that fuels climate change and preparing for impacts we face today.

EPA has a key role to play in reducing carbon pollution. That’s why we proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants. The standards are flexible and achievable. They set different limits for different types of natural gas and coal plants and they’re based on the performance of efficient, clean, home grown technologies. We’re committed to proposing standards for existing power plants, too. But we plan to release those proposed standards by June of 2014.

Our promise to the American people is to ensure clean water, clean air, and adequate public health standards for all, regardless of where you come from, where you live, or what you look like. EPA is committed to ensuring our actions make a real, measurable difference in our communities. Those actions have direct and indirect economic benefits. Not only improving the quality of people’s lives, but also the quality of job conditions that are often made worse from environmental hazards.

Although we’re making progress, we need to do more. And we need all our partners at the table. That means all of you! Too many vulnerable communities are left behind - we need to bring them into focus. Too often the Hispanic community is excluded from deliberation and decision making. We must bring them to the table.

That’s how we’ll get stronger as a nation. And as EPA Administrator, I’m committed to doing whatever we can to get us there.

Thanks so much. And with that, I’ll pass it back to Congressman Grijalva.