By Albert Jacquez
Like all Americans, Latinos care deeply about the health and wellbeing of our families. We also care about good jobs and a strong national economy. These are built on the irreplaceable foundations of clean air, clean water, and a healthy natural environment - which is why Scott Pruitt's nomination to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is deeply troubling.
The EPA is the federal agency responsible for protecting our health by safeguarding our environment, our air, our water and our land. But as Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt continually filed lawsuits to block measures aimed at reducing pollution and boosting the development of the nation's clean energy economy. This is not the type of "environmental protection" any of us need, especially not the 24 million Latinos who live in the 15 cities with the country's highest levels of smog pollution.
Last week, in his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Pruitt could not provide a single example of an action he initiated to protect the environment in his role as Oklahoma's Attorney General. In fact, Pruitt's record shows that he filed over a dozen lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of, and in coordination with, energy companies. He has not committed to recuse himself from any of these lawsuits should he be confirmed as EPA Administrator.
Instead, Pruitt's actions have focused on making it easier for large companies to pollute. He opposes basic protections for American families - protection against air pollution that causes asthma and against toxic mercury, a potent neurotoxin that damages brain development in children. He even shut down the environmental enforcement unit in his Oklahoma office.
When asked how many Americans suffer from asthma, Pruitt's response was, "I don't know."
When asked what level of lead exposure is safe, Pruitt responded, "I don't know."
Equally problematic is the detrimental impact Pruitt's leadership would have on the American economy and on good jobs. Just this week, a new report from Environmental Defense Fund found there are at least 4 million jobs tied to sustainability reaching all 50 states. Because of the on-site nature of many renewable and energy efficiency jobs, these jobs cannot be outsourced, and many pay above average wages.
This isn't a negligible workforce or a niche economy. In fact, the clean energy economy is outpacing the rest of the economy in both growth and job creation. Solar employment opportunities alone are currently growing at a rate 12 times faster than other sectors.
Pruitt's nomination suggests that the Trump Administration has no understanding of the potential of the green economy to protect our children's health and our natural environment, while simultaneously providing the economic development and job growth that could serve our country so well.
On the eve of last November's election, Latino Decisions conducted a survey of Latino voters and the results are clear: our community wants the government to fight against air pollution and climate change, and to support the transition to a clean energy economy.
The survey found that 71% of Latino voters nationwide consider it to be very or extremely important that the next President and Congress take a stance in fighting against climate change. An even higher percentage (75%) considers it to be very or extremely important to fight against water and air pollution. The study also highlights that 76% of the Latino voters prefer candidates who support reducing pollution and creating clean energy jobs, rather than candidates who favor oil extraction, fracking, and fossil fuels subsidies.
Good jobs, clean air, and clean drinking water are not partisan issues. They impact all Americans, regardless of political party. No one voted for President Trump because they wanted more pollution. In fact, even a majority of Trump voters overwhelmingly support environmental protections. But Scott Pruitt's nomination reflects that the Trump Administration is out of touch with these basic American values.
Nationwide, all our communities must call on Congress to lead in a way that reflects American values, including our care for our natural environment. A crucial first step is for Senators to vote "no" on Pruitt and instead select an EPA Administrator who will protect Americans and our environment. Now is the time: pick up the phone, write an email, or send a Tweet. Tell your senator that our environment, our health, and our economy can't wait.
*Albert Jacquez is the Deputy Executive Director of the National Council of La Raza's Action Fund.