OPINION

Opinion: The Clean Power Plan would make the air Latinos breathe significantly cleaner

PALM SPRINGS, CA - MARCH 27:  A man rids his bike against the win as giant wind turbines are powered by strong winds at sunset on March 27, 2013 in Palm Springs, California. According to reports, California continues to lead the nation in green technology and has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, even with a growing economy and population.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

PALM SPRINGS, CA - MARCH 27: A man rids his bike against the win as giant wind turbines are powered by strong winds at sunset on March 27, 2013 in Palm Springs, California. According to reports, California continues to lead the nation in green technology and has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, even with a growing economy and population. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

Coloradans know all too well the importance of the environment for our state’s tourism industry and the jobs it supports. But our families’ health is also deeply intertwined with the state of our environment. Hispanics suffer disproportionately from the carbon pollution that fuels the problem. For us, climate change is not a distant future event — it’s affecting us now.

As the world’s leaders gather in Paris to discuss a coordinated global agreement to roll back climate change, we need to keep in mind the immediacy of this issue for our community. 

[The Clean Power Plan] is a solid, commonsense plan that will benefit our community and will translate into healthier children and families in Colorado. It provides states with the flexibility to implement a plan that makes sense for their own energy needs, as well as their particular geographic and economic realities.

- Chaz Tedesco

The American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report listed Denver as the 13th most smog-polluted city in the nation. Adams County, where I serve as county commissioner, has a power plant, located in Globeville, one of our poorest neighborhoods and a heavily Latino area. For a long time, when this plant relied on coal, the air in that neighborhood was heavily polluted. When researchers compare where Hispanics live and the incidence of respiratory illnesses, the correlation is clear.

That is why I testified last month at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut carbon emissions 32 percent by the year 2030 and to reverse the dangerous effects of climate change, including exacerbated smog and other air quality issues. 

It is an understatement to say this plan is vital for the Latino community. For my constituents in Globeville, and more than half of all Hispanics in this country, addressing and limiting climate change is critical to our health and well-being. From a geopolitical standpoint, this plan gives President Obama the moral high ground to ask other nations to also make significant reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions.

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But it’s also the right thing to do for our population. Half of all Latinos in America live in the areas with the nation’s worst air quality. The effects of coal-fired plants close to an urban population are real. Latinos are 60 percent more likely to visit the hospital for asthma and Hispanic children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma attacks compared to non-Hispanic whites, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. 

This statistic mirrors the reality of Globeville — compared to other metro Denver residents, people living in Globeville are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions, such as asthma. And among those, the most affected are children. Thankfully, the Globeville plant recently converted to natural gas, which is less polluting. Sadly, that is not case in many other Latino communities around the nation.

Coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon pollution. Coal is a leading cause of smog, acid rain and toxic air pollution. Some pollution can be significantly reduced with safeguards, but most coal plants have not installed these technologies. The Clean Power Plan would make the air Latinos breathe significantly cleaner.

That is why I expressed my full support for the Clean Power Plan at the hearings last month. It is a solid, commonsense plan that will benefit our community and will translate into healthier children and families in Colorado. It provides states with the flexibility to implement a plan that makes sense for their own energy needs, as well as their particular geographic and economic realities.

If not for this plan, our communities and children will continue breathing dirty air. However, climate deniers are already working to stop this plan. Sadly, our own Attorney General in Colorado is trying to gum up its implementation by filing a lawsuit, even though our governor says the state will, and should, implement the Clean Power Plan because it will help the state economy and improve the health of our residents. 

Not taking action only helps the big polluters, who make millions of dollars at the expense of our community’s health.

Aside from very tangible health costs of inaction, there are real economic costs. Colorado’s Latino community will drive a significant portion of the state’s projected population growth, according to 2015 Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study. This also means economic growth. But health care costs could dampen it. 

The study also said that Colorado’s tourism industry – which is a major state employer, bringing in between $8.5 and $15 billion annually – is likely to suffer as climate change fuels extreme weather, temperature extremes and lower.

These are all reasons why Latinos need climate change policies now. In Paris, it is our economy’s health, and most important of all, the health of our children, that are at stake.

Chaz Tedesco represents District 2 in Colorado's Adams County Commission. Tedesco, a U.S. Navy veteran, also serves as chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

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