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Latinos must speak up for our well-being

By January 15, 2015Climate & Energy, Juntos

By Vicente Garcia / Program Director, Juntos New Mexico
PUBLISHED in the Albuquerque Journal on Thursday, January 15, 2015
Truth be told, the average meeting of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission doesn’t get noticed much. It’s not exactly the hottest ticket in town. That’s why when nearly 300 New Mexicans showed up at the commission’s doors on Jan. 5 to protest PNM’s proposal to replace power from the San Juan coal plant with nuclear and a reinvestment in coal, it was a New Year’s surprise.
After rallying outside the offices, concerned New Mexicans then streamed into the PRC’s hearing room, taking advantage of the first day of a public comment period to make their voices heard. Many people spoke up on Jan. 5, including concerned tribal members of the Navajo Nation, faith leaders and renewable energy business executives. Last Friday I testified as well, along with other concerned members from the Latino community. At this point, it’s clear that New Mexicans are paying attention and they don’t want the PRC to approve PNM’s plan.
At the end of the day, the PRC’s decisions determine our energy future – which has a significant impact on the health of our families and our children. That’s why New Mexicans from across the state, including many from the Latino community, are calling on the PRC to send PNM’s proposal back to the drawing board.
I am the director of a community organization called Juntos, a program of Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund that participated along with 34 other community organizations at the rally in front of the PRC last week. Every day we work in the community reaching out to New Mexico’s substantial Latino community (we’re nearly half the state’s population) ensuring that folks know that they have a voice in this process.
Our job isn’t as hard as you might think because families know what’s at stake. They want their utilities to invest in clean energy and invest in the health and well-being of our communities.
According to a recent poll by the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, 79 percent of Latinos in New Mexico are concerned about pollution. The same poll showed that 84 percent support requiring their utility company to increase their generation of clean energy.
It isn’t rocket science. Our communities see the effects of what it means to depend on energy technology that’s half a century old, when we could be investing in clean energy today. Our neighborhoods are often the most polluted, and our children more likely to suffer from complications related to asthma.
Nationally, Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups. Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than other ethnicities, and nearly 1 in 10 Latino children under the age of 18 suffer from this chronic respiratory illness.
Here in New Mexico dirty energy in any part of the state has a profound impact everywhere. The science now tells us that pollutants from power plants adhere themselves to fine particles and travel far away from their original source. Even remote areas can be affected by toxic pollutants emitted many miles away. This puts our whole state’s health at risk.
The risk is even more urgent when considering the health disparities that exist within New Mexico. Inequities exist when it comes to the ability of certain populations to respond to health impacts caused by environmental factors. The state Department of Health is aware of many demographic inequities that exist throughout New Mexico, including the fact that Latinos are the least likely of all racial groups to have health care.
Juntos and Latino communities across the country are increasingly scrutinizing their utility companies and state regulators to ensure that pollution, particularly from dirty coal-fired power plants, is taken seriously.
The PRC’s public hearings that began on Jan. 5 will continue until Friday, with an expected decision in March. The commissioners need to vote down the current proposal and tell PNM to come up with something better. Enough is enough. Let’s get this right for our state, our families and our children’s future. Hearings are held in the Ground Floor Hearing Room at 9 a.m. in the Old PERA Building, located at 1120 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe.
Juntos New Mexico is a program of Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund.