Protecting Our Environment Is a Matter of Life or Death

03/09/2015 02:17 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

Latino families are an important part of California's economy, contributing to our social growth and vitality. Unfortunately, Latinos often live with poor air quality and other forms of environmental contamination in their communities. We started the California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network (CLEAN) to have a seat at the table and to be part of the conversation regarding environmental issues.

I have been involved in social justice issues for over two decades now. CLEAN is here to provide a voice and to advocate for the community members who are often most impacted by environmental pollution. The most negatively impacted community by environmental pollution is the Latino community, especially in areas such as Southeast Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, and South Los Angeles.

The recent explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance is a reminder that we must do everything in our power to safeguard our air, water, and natural resources.

We have an opportunity to encourage our policymakers to make the best decisions for our region. We started CLEAN since we felt that the Latino community is not well represented in environmental protection issues. We are the first Latino founded and led, statewide, environmental non-profit organization. As we elect more Latino lawmakers and our political influence in California grows, we must encourage our lawmakers to advocate strongly for our environmental health. We deserve clean air, clean water, and open space for our families, seniors, and children.

We do not have to choose between jobs and healthy air quality in our region. In fact, California is making some strides for a healthier environment and more green jobs need to be created. The state's economic growth is again leading the nation, and we have the world's seventh largest economy. California has made this economic rebound while being a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2012 Senate Bill 535 was passed to rectify underinvestment in underserved areas. This legislation is meant to ensure funds from California's landmark greenhouse reduction bill (AB 32) would go to communities that cannot afford to invest in low carbon solutions like mass transit, bike lanes, energy efficiency initiatives, and local food networks. This is a huge opportunity for our community to access funds that will result in cleaner air, greener transportation, and a better environment for our families.

This progress on the environment and economy is welcome. But, Latino communities still face huge environmental challenges that require leadership and diligence. For example, the Exide battery plant in Vernon, for over three decades, released lead dust into the air and land, affecting the health and quality of life for many families in the predominantly Latino region. Many people have died due to cancer in Southeast Los Angeles. Recently, Exide plant was denied permission to resume lead smelting in Vernon last year. These are the kinds of environmental challenges we must address in the future in a more timely manner, since yes, protecting our environment is an issue of life or death.

Many Latino neighborhoods continue to be disproportionately affected by poor air quality. Here in L.A. County, we are in the top quarter of the state that is adversely impacted by air pollution. We have to build coalitions to work with our Latino leaders in the state capitol to stand up for communities that need clean air, communities that need a strong voice, and communities that are fighting for a healthy environment.

I encourage Latino legislators like Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia, Roger Hernandez, and Ian Calderon to support new calls by state leaders to reduce California's greenhouse gases to 80 percent below the 1990 level by 2050. They should insure that such bills benefit the most impacted communities first. This way we can continue California's climate progress by establishing carbon reduction goals for 2050. Let's continue to make our environment healthier, cleaner and more prosperous for families in our region.


Randy Jurado Ertll, executive director of the California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network - CLEAN. WWW.CLEANNETWORK.ORG