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Latinos Are Ready to Lead on Climate Change

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This week the Environmental Protection Agency took a critical step to reduce carbon pollution, one of the biggest (and still growing) causes of climate change. The EPA's rule limiting emissions from new coal plants is the first step in President Obama's plan to tackle what has truly become a global crisis. I agree with him that we can't wait any longer. We're seeing record-breaking storms and severe weather around the country and the rest of the world. We can't sit back and wait any longer.

If it hasn't already, climate change will impact everyone soon regardless of who they are, where they live or how much money they have. The physical and health consequences will be especially severe for children, the elderly, people with lower incomes, and people who work outdoors in industries like agricultural and construction.

American Latinos will be among the most strongly affected. We have a personal as well as a collective national stake in limiting climate change. It's time for us to take the lead.

Since I was first elected to Congress in 2002, I've worked to protect the Southern Arizona communities I represent from excessive pollution. I've also worked to protect the Grand Canyon and our many other ecological and historical treasures. Protecting people and the great outdoors are two sides of the same coin, and each benefits the other. I've introduced legislation to clean up our public lands and put young people to work at the same time; to allow our public schools to upgrade their facilities to make them more energy efficient and lower their electricity bills; and to give our community college students workforce training and education in sustainable energy industries, just to name a few.

We need these kinds of approaches because climate change is intensifying extreme weather events that threaten communities across the country. Last year Arizonans endured record-breaking heat in 11 counties, surpassing thirty-five separate extreme heat records. A total of 64 large wildfires put Arizonans' homes and health at risk. We all saw the devastation and tragic deaths caused by the recent Yarnell Fire. Today our neighbors in Colorado are working to recover from historic floods.

This is not random chance. There are well understood scientific reasons for these catastrophes. We have the power to reduce their impact, and we should use it.

The President has proposed a plan to fight climate change by controlling carbon emissions from the nation's largest sources. You've heard it before, and it's still true: Investments in renewable energy will create jobs and help make us energy independent. Latinos are strongly in favor of this plan. According to a poll by Latino Decisions, 86% of Latinos support the President taking action to limit carbon pollution.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, close to 50 percent of all Hispanic Americans live in counties that frequently violate the legal limit for ground-level ozone, which most of us call smog. That means millions of Latinos are at risk of worsening asthma, bronchitis and even death. The time for Latinos to get involved and take leadership roles in this fight is now.

That's why I'm proud to host a panel at this year's Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) public policy conference to highlight the importance of engaging Latinos. Latino leaders are becoming some of the nation's most influential and important champions for a cleaner environment. They join a long line of environmental justice grassroots advocates who fought against incinerators, landfills, and other toxic industrial uses in their neighborhoods. As a community, we have a personal responsibility to ensure that climate change and renewable energy policies move forward to protect the health of our children and future generations.

I know it can be hard to feel encouraged or inspired when Congress looks dysfunctional. But when we think back on the many other great causes that succeeded throughout American history, we remember that none of them started on a straight, smooth-paved road. Civil rights faced much greater dysfunction - and violence - than clean air advocates face today. We can do this. We owe it to ourselves and to the future of our great country.

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