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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Latino Power

Air Date: Week of

Roger Rivera, speaking at the National Latino Congreso. (Photo: Christine Holmes)

Much of the nation's environmental policy begins in California, and Latinos in that state have become influential in making that policy. But, as Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports from Los Angeles, Latino leaders are also hoping to make national environmental issues a priority on their community’s agenda.


CURWOOD: As Latinos continue to grow in political strength, their leaders have increasing influence and power at the highest levels of environmental policy-making, especially in California. Now national Latino leaders are working overtime to bring more brown and poor people into a broader American environmental movement.

Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.

LOBET: If you have any doubt that Latinos are already shaping environmental power politics, consider the recent landmark global warming legislation in California. It came to the governor's desk via Fabian Nuñez, the speaker of the state assembly. Nuñez recently exulted over how he and environmental supporters played hardball with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Fabian Nunez talks with Latino leaders at the National Latino Congreso. (Photo: Christine Holmes)

NUÑEZ: They wanted to allow certain industries to circumvent the requirements under this law, we said we don't want to go there. Eventually they said the governor wouldn't sign it--he himself said I'm not going to sign this bill unless the governor can delay those caps and those requirements. We said absolutely not.

LOBET: In order to win the fight for the global warming bill, Speaker Nuñez had to persuade the Caucus of Latino Lawmakers, which tends to vote against measures that could hurt jobs. But no sooner had he gotten that sewn up, when a mostly-Latino group to his left, the environmental justice groups objected to the idea of trading in carbon. They say it could lead to siting more dirty industries in already-gritty neighborhoods. These grass-roots groups were heard by top advisors to the governor, like Linda Adams, the state's highest environmental official.

ADAMS: They have a tremendous amount of power.

LOBET: Could they have kept this from happening?

ADAMS: Ah, possibly. It was an issue that we paid close attention to.

LOBET: Mainline environmental organizations such as Environmental Defense, now hire people like Raphael Aguilera, who not only knows his nitrogen oxide from his sulfur, but has cultural knowledge as well. It's yet another way Latinos are shaping environmental policy.

AGUILERA: I'd say that support form community groups, communities that are impacted with pollution that tend to be predominantly communities of color, was very persuasive and very important to our victory with AB 32. Had we had them opposed to the bill, I am also quite confident that we would have lost it.

LOBET: Meanwhile, national Latino Leaders are trying to elevate the environment among their own.

RIVERA: We welcome you to day three, the environmental day, of the National Latino Congreso!!!!

Roger Rivera, speaking at the National Latino Congreso. (Photo: Christine Holmes)

LOBET: At a recent high level Latino policy summit in Los Angeles, Roger Rivera of the National Hispanic Environmental Council roused, and then ribbed his audience.

RIVERA: A little honesty here, when you saw the brochure for the Congresso and you flipped through it and you saw "Civil Rights", you saw “Education” you saw "Immigration" on the agenda you were probably pleased. Then on day three you said, wow, "the Environment", what's up with that? We’re Latinos, we don't do the environment, right?

LOBET: Then Rivera proceeded to bore into the crowd, telling them why the environment needs to be the top of a national Latino political agenda—he cited the lack of urban parks, the good jobs available in environmental technology and the scholarship money for environmental science. But if those reasons don't persuade you, he said:

RIVERA: If nothing is done on global warming and climate change, and it comes look at each other. Look at your familia, and figure out: what are you going to do? I can tell you what wealthy people are going to do. The day they hear that all of the ice sheets on Greenland and the glaciers have melted and New York and Miami and LA and other cities are flooding, they're going to turn to each other and say. “fire up the helicopter, let's go to our third home in Aspen or Vail.” Millions of people of color are going to be dramatically impacted by climate change and global warming. We must take control of our environmental destiny.

LOBET: The biggest applause of this day came when California Assembly Speaker Nuñez said Latinos should make climate change the number one issue in the 2008 presidential election.

For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.



Earth Day Network

National Hispanic Environmental Council

Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez


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