Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at the LULAC Summer Conference in Washington, D.C., as Prepared
July 14, 2016
I want to thank and recognize Roger Rocha, LULAC National President, as well as Green Latinos and the many other organizations that are making sure the voices of the Latino community are heard – inside the beltway and across America.
EPA has continued to rely on your input and support as we have taken action on climate change; clean air, safe drinking water and healthy rivers and streams; on healthy homes, schools, daycare centers and playgrounds; on toxics and pesticides in products and at our places of work; and to build community resilience and strengthen crisis management as we face stronger storms, more wildfires and diseases like Zika, Chikungunya, and others that threaten the health and wellbeing of our families and even our next generation.
Today more than ever, we value our growing partnership and need your vigilance and support.
As you know, at our core, EPA is a public health agency. We protect people from the health impacts of pollution – that’s what we do. And we’ve made major progress in the last 45 years that we should be proud of.
But we cannot, have not, and we will not turn a blind eye to the realities of environmental justice. That’s why we strengthened protections for our farmworkers with new rules.
We will not turn a blind eye to the colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border where I spent this past Tuesday meeting with local community members who simply wanted access to water and wastewater systems that work, roads where ambulances can travel, and someone who will listen and provide them the support they need. Or to Puerto RicO, where people want to understand the best ways to protect their children from the Zika virus so that they – the people of Puerto Rico – can make their own decisions and know that the U.S. Government is there to provide the technical support and resources they need to rely on.
Too many low-income and minority communities, including Latino communities, are overburdened by the effects of pollution.
While 8 percent of Hispanic children in America suffer from asthma, twice as many Hispanic children are likely to be hospitalized for asthma as white children. And Puerto Rican children have the highest asthma rates among all ethnicities at 20 percent. That is staggering.
That’s why EPA is supporting pediatric environmental health specialty units – dedicated medical professionals – to work in places like El Paso and across California and Arizona, to train promotores who can help parents eliminate the triggers that lead to asthma attacks, or help them access early care, or let farmworkers know about their rights under EPA’s new worker protection standards.
And that’s why in Puerto Rico we have a permanent EPA office to respond to the unique challenges the people of Puerto Rico are facing and to highlight their needs to those in Washington who will listen not just with their ears but with their hearts as well as their wallets.
In the U.S., there are 15 million people who live within a half mile of a Brownfield site – and they are disproportionately more minority, more linguistically isolated, lower income, and less likely to have a high school education than the U.S. population as a whole.
We can and must do better.
When I go out into neighborhoods that have a contaminated site, I see communities held back from becoming a functioning part of a growing economy. Because pollution matters.
Pollution is a barrier to the jobs, businesses, and quality of life that every community deserves to enjoy. Just look at Flint, Michigan. The lead in that water didn’t just threaten their children’s future, it is a symptom of decades of disinvestment. We need to get them the clean water they deserve and to get them on the road to economic investment.
Why should so many communities have to face such a steep climb to these opportunities when we are the gold standard in the world when it comes to environmental protection? We have to do better.
Every community should have a fair shot at economic vibrancy. And that starts with protecting public health and the environment. When you do that – people come back, business and jobs rebound and local economies can start to thrive again.
So EPA has redoubled our commitment to our public health mission and to the pursuit of environmental justice. And we will keep working with you – hand in hand – to take the actions necessary to turn commitment into reality.
That’s why we issued a report on the health risks of climate change. Because we now know that climate change hits vulnerable populations – including communities of color and vulnerable occupational groups such as outdoor laborers – the very hardest.
That’s why EPA moved forward to tackle carbon pollution, methane and toxic emissions in the oil and gas and the transportation sectors, at power plants, landfills, and even refineries – where fence-line communities need to know the risks they may be facing and that EPA has their backs. And we do.
I am so grateful for our partnership, the openness you have shown to me personally, and for our continued commitment to our memorandum of understanding with LULAC. I have a little less than 200 days left in this administration but I plan to join the President in the race to run across the tape next January. We have so much more work to do.
And EPA is ready to keep working together, hand in hand with all of you, to help families understand and reduce environmental health risks to children. We can do so much together that we cannot achieve alone.
For example, we recently selected the Hispanic Communications Network to conduct robust outreach to Hispanic labor communities about our Worker Protection Standard – that’s the best way we know how to reach farmworkers who need to know that they now enjoy the same levels of protection afforded to workers in other sectors. And, if that is not the case, they need to know who to call: EPA.
And rest assured we are working hard to increase diversity within EPA by bringing more health experts into the agency from top to bottom; expanding our partnerships with the medical and public health communities; strengthening interagency collaborations with CEC, ATSDR, and other federal partners on epidemiology and environmental health; and opening up more opportunities for diverse students to enter the agency through 19 collaborative agreements with minority serving institutions across the country.
We need students from all walks of life to know there is a place for them at EPA.
We cannot just talk that talk, we must walk the walk.
We have come a long way under President Obama’s leadership and with your help we will continue to make progress on issues that matter to all of us.