THE BLOG

Washing Mother Earth's Face

06/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How ironic that during the month in which we all celebrate the wonders of Mother Earth, her face is smeared with coal and oil.

As I write these lines, a black tide as large as Rhode Island is threatening the Louisiana coast. On April 20, an explosion that most likely took the lives of 11 workers on the off-shore Deepwater Horizon platform, operated by BP, caused the oil well deep underwater to gush at a rate of 210,000 gallons per day.

If the well is not shut down, something extremely difficult because it is a mile underwater, the oil spill could be the worst since the Exxon Valdez disaster, which catastrophically smeared a large portion of the Alaska coast in 1989.

This did not have to happen. According to the Huffington Post, regardless of its dismal off-shore safety record, last year the oil industry aggressively opposed a new set of regulations for these kinds of platforms. The federal rules were triggered by the fact that from 2001 to 2007 close to 1,500 incidents caused the deaths of 41 workers and injured 302.

The Post adds that the industry demanded "flexibility" to self-regulate voluntarily according to its "corporate culture."

On April 5, the coal industry was at the center of a similar drama. An explosion at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine, owned by Massey Energy, killed 29 workers, becoming the worst U.S. mine disaster in 40 years.

Since 2005, Massey Energy piled up 1,342 federal safety violations that could cost it a total of $1.89 million in fines. In March alone, 50 violations were observed at this mine, including poor ventilation of dust and methane, and accumulation of combustible materials.

Massey Energy's opposition to federal regulations is legendary. And so are the verbal attacks by its leader, Don Blankenship, against those of us who support energy reform, calling us all "greeniacs."

The corporate irresponsibility of these industries never ceases to amaze us. Five oil giants -- ExxonMobil (2nd), Sunoco (3rd), Koch Industries (10th), ConocoPhillips (11th) and Valero Energy (12th) -- lead the pack of America's worst air polluters, according to the University of Massachusetts.

There's more. In this month when we all had to file our taxes, Forbes magazine reported that ExxonMobil -- the world's richest corporation with reported profits of $45.2 billion last year -- paid not a cent in federal taxes.

How do they do it? By establishing off-shore (that word again) corporate tax havens in places like the Bahamas and Bermuda. In fact, according to ThinkProgress, Corporate America's tax loopholes cost the rest of us taxpayers some $100 billion a year.

Should we continue drilling this whole of oil and coal addiction we all are in? Hispanic voters have given a resounding no.

A poll sponsored by the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change (NLCCC) revealed overwhelming support among Hispanics for the shift to a new clean energy economy and confirmed once more that we consider global warming a serious problem.

The survey -- conducted in three key states for the November election, Colorado, Florida and Nevada -- found that more than three fourths of the Hispanic electorate believe that Congress must act now to pass energy reform legislation.

Respondents also overwhelmingly favor candidates who support the energy reform in Congress (80 percent in Florida, 67 percent in Nevada and 50 percent in Colorado).

The great majority of voters also identify energy reform with job creation (72 percent in Nevada, 66 percent in Florida and 54 percent in Colorado). The survey also tells us that the great majority of Hispanic voters believe in the threat of global warming (76 percent in Florida, 74 percent in Nevada and 64 percent in Colorado).

Finally, by overwhelming majorities, respondents said they are willing to make some sacrifices to fight global warming (91 percent in Florida and Nevada, and 83 percent in Colorado).

It's an extraordinary lesson in civic pride and patriotism that Hispanics, one of the country's most underserved communities, are willing to make sacrifices for the common good.

It's also a symbolic gesture to help wash Mother Earth's face.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_sc.