Latino Groups Urge Obama to Protect Them From Polluters

Uphold the Clean Air Act, groups ask

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Across the United States—from California’s Central Valley to Chicago, Houston and New York—people are breathing polluted air and suffering. Asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, birth defects and even cancer are the prices paid by residents in scores of American communities where polluting facilities operate.

Worst of all, this suffering is unnecessary. Cost-effective technology to dramatically reduce toxic air emissions exists, but some of the biggest polluters simply brush off obligations to clean up their acts and be better neighbors. This stubborn refusal to comply with the law is having an especially big impact on Latino citizens, as a recent letter to President Obama and Congress points out.

More than 25 million U.S. Latinos—66 percent of the total Latino population—live in places where federal air quality standards aren’t being met. Rates of asthma in communities like San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood are four times the national average. The letter, signed by community groups representing more than 5 million Latino citizens in the U.S., urges the Obama administration and Congress to uphold the Clean Air Act, which the groups say "means jobs, better health and better opportunities for a brighter, healthier future."

Thankfully, the future is getting a bit brighter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently finalized strong rules to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from cement plants. Years of litigation and advocacy by Earthjustice, along with actions taken by our supporters and allies, paved the way for this tremendous victory for public health.

But there is plenty of paving still to be done: Global climate disruption brought on by greenhouse gas pollution poses a tremendous threat to the public’s health. Earlier this week, an impressive coalition of public health professionals sent a letter to President Obama and Congress urging them to preserve the EPA’s ability to enforce laws that protect the health and well-being of our families, friends, and neighbors. These critical powers are under assault by big polluters and their congressional allies, who strangely prefer dirty air and energy over green jobs, renewable energy, and clean air.

There’s nothing beneficial about polluted air. But cleaning it up pays serious dividends. In its 40-year history, the Clean Air Act has saved tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Even more benefits are in store, and for the sake of all Americans, it’s time for big polluters to step out of the way.

Sam Edmondson was a campaign manager on air toxics issues from 2010 until 2012. He helped organize the first 50 States United for Healthy Air event. His desire to work at an environmental organization came from the belief that if we don't do something to change our unsustainable ways, we are in big trouble.