Thank you for asking me to join you today. I’m especially pleased to be able to join you as we begin to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Let me also say a special thank you to CHCI for shaping the next generation of Latino leaders. I know the value of that first hand. In February, when I was just starting at EPA, I met a young woman named Betsaida Alcantara. Betsaida was one of our first hires in Public Affairs at EPA. She is also a graduate of CHCI 2006-2007 fellowship program. Some of you may have had the chance to work with her this week as she helped arrange my visit here. Betsaida has been an instrumental part of our team at EPA.
She has helped get our message out about what we’re doing to get EPA back on the job. And she’s been an important part of our outreach to diverse groups – which I’ll say more about later. When Betsaida first came to me to tell me about this event, she said to me: “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for CHCI.”
So let me express my personal gratitude to CHCI for shaping and supporting Betsaida. Thank you for giving her and so many others the support and guidance to become the leaders of tomorrow.
One of the things we’re here to talk about is the “Energy Revolution.” We are on the verge of transforming the ways that we generate and use energy in this country. President Obama has pledged to double our use of renewable energy in the next three years. In the next decade, we plan to invest $150 billion to get America running on clean energy. Congress is also hard at work crafting legislation to get America running on clean energy. If we get that right, we can create millions of new jobs. We can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and keep billions of dollars at home every year. And we can begin the fight against global climate change, by cutting millions of tons of CO2 and other dangerous pollutants out of the air.
But I want to speak for a moment about a different kind of energy. Not wind or solar or geothermal, but the energy that exists in gatherings like this one. It’s the energy for action to protect our health and preserve our environment. For many years and many different reasons, that energy in the Latino community has gone untapped. But we know it’s there.
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 also see – in places all across the country – an extraordinary need for action. 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. Of all groups in the US, Puerto Rican’s have the highest asthma rates – 125 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites and 80 percent higher than African Americans. They die from asthma more than three and half times as often as non-Hispanic whites.
These are the tragic consequences of being on the margins of this conversation.
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.
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.
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.
Our news releases, fact sheets, environmental health information and more are now published in Spanish. We even have a Twitter feed in Spanish. Our Beyond Translation Initiative goes a step further, seeking 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. To date, forums have been held in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. On October 26th of this year there will be another meeting here in 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. On the national scale, EPA has been working on an environmental program with its Mexican counterpart 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.
At the end of this week, we’ll partner with other Federal Agencies on the 2nd Annual Hispanic Career Advancement Summit. We know our work is stronger when our workforce reflects the communities we serve. By recruiting, retaining and developing a talented, diverse workforce, we can be sure that all voices are part of the decision making process, and that all communities are included in the solutions we put into place.
And we have a variety of grant programs to encourage promising students in environmental fields. Since 2000, we’ve awarded $3.5 million in fellowships to Hispanic students, helping them move into scientific careers. That mirrors the partnership you announced today to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math training – training that will be essential in the energy revolution we’re trying to spark. It also makes me think back on my own experience. I am a chemical engineer by training, and studied science my whole life. It’s exciting to think that a STEM internship or EPA fellowship might be training a future EPA Administrator.
I also want to mention an announcement we made just about an hour ago. I came here straight from the White House, where I announced a new proposed rule to increase fuel efficiency in cars, SUVs and small trucks. You may remember that in May, President Obama met with auto makers, auto workers, governors from across the country, myself and others to announce an historic agreement on fuel efficiency. That announcement was also a directive to get to work – and today we took the next step in fulfilling the promise of that agreement.
The new proposed standards will require an average fuel economy of 35.5 mpg in 2016 – a level that will reduce oil consumption by an estimated 1.8 billion barrels, prevent greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 950 million metric tons – the equivalent of about 42 million cars – and at the same time, save consumers more than $3000 in fuel costs.
This is a path forward that is win-win for our health, for our environment, and for our economy. And it will go a long way towards reducing the health threats from air pollution. In the near-term, we will be able to prevent asthma and other illnesses that affect Latinos in disproportionate amounts. Over the long-term, this is a significant advance in dealing with global climate change so that we don’t leave that problem for our children to solve.
These are a start. But there is much more to be done. 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 leading the energy revolution, and securing the green jobs of the 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. 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.
EPA is once again guided by a broad vision of public health protection and environmental preservation. And Latinos in America are increasingly concerned and disproportionately impacted by these issues. 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.