04/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On Earth Day, Let's Talk About Environmental Injustice

Latinos and other groups of color continue to encounter a clear scarcity of public services and disproportionate exposure to risk in their communities. This precarious combination places our communities in danger and must compel us to take action.

Environmental injustice is among the critical challenges facing Latinos -- the largest and fastest growing minority population.

Today, on the 38th anniversary of Earth Day, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) reaffirms its resolute commitment to addressing environmental injustice in our communities. As we celebrate it and promote actions and policies to help protect the earth, we cannot forget about the disproportionate impact Latino communities and other communities of color are feeling.

Currently, 5.5 million Latinos live near hazardous waste facilities. And this is not just a phenomenon affecting Hispanics. A recent report identified that 87 percent of all commercial waste facilities are located in metropolitan areas where people of color reside. The environmental consequences and associated health risks -- such as watershed contamination and increase in asthma related illnesses -- are dire. However, waste facility issues comprise only a fraction of the environmental concerns our communities have.

Urban areas with large Latino constituencies lack recreational areas like parks or "green spaces." Instead, abandoned and underdeveloped "brownfields" surround these communities. We support community-based efforts aimed at revitalizing and invigorating our neighborhoods, and continue to make that a priority in our work.

We are very cognizant of the threat that global warming poses to Latinos, so we advocate for solutions that attempt to reverse its effects. As residents of under-resourced and over-burdened cities, many Latinos will be ill-equipped to deal with the environmental impacts attributed to climate change. For example, one study estimates that mortality rates from heat-related effects could increase twelve-fold for Latinos this century if carbon emissions remain unabated.

It behooves us, as members of the CHC, to ensure an auspicious, promising future for Latinos throughout the country. Consequently, achieving environmental justice remains a high priority for CHC -- working with leaders like Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis, who chairs our Health and the Environment Task Force.

It is a shame that people of color continue to bear this unjust, disproportionate burden, while contributing significantly to the American mosaic. It is because of this situation that we at the CHC will continue to tirelessly fight to ensure that Latinos, other minority groups, and those living in poverty are not left to suffer environmental injustices.