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Reader View: Environmental movement matters to Hispanos

By July 18, 2015Juntos

By Vicente Garica | published in the Santa Fe New Mexican
This week is Latino Conservation Week and Hispano communities across the country have cause to celebrate our growing voice in the environmental movement. The trend of Latino activism and leadership on climate change and conservation is rapidly growing across the nation. I know this because Juntos is part of that upward trend.
This year in Albuquerque, Juntos’ volunteers are rallying in opposition to Public Service Company of New Mexico’s current plan to replace power from the San Juan Generating Station through investing more in coal and nuclear versus wind and solar. We have already delivered 6,500 postcards to Gov. Susana Martinez and the Public Regulation Commission to show our support for a replacement power that keeps New Mexico’s future clean and our families healthy.

These are just some of the specific examples of how Latino communities are mobilizing for environmental issues across the country. But we don’t just want to keep our air clean; we also want to be able to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Latinos are a strong voice in the conservation world.
Last summer, a poll showed that an overwhelming 93 percent of Latinos in Colorado and New Mexico believe that the government should protect public lands for recreation and the overall well-being of the environment. Latinos don’t just believe in protecting special places; they’re also bringing their wallets to the table. In 2014, 88 percent of Latinos contributed to the booming outdoor recreation economy by purchasing equipment for outdoor activities like camping, hiking and fishing. It’s clear that with Latino communities across the country making up one of the fastest-growing population segments, we need to make sure that our growing voice for conservation and the environment is heard.
Never has our voice been more critical than now, when America’s conservation legacy is at risk. On Sept. 30, after 50 years of overwhelming success, America’s best parks program — the Land and Water Conservation Fund — will expire. This federal program has helped increase access to open spaces in nearly every county across the nation, supporting everything from national park expansions to local parks and ballfields.
Here in New Mexico, the program has helped protect special places ranging from the Petroglyph National Monument to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. If the fund disappears, the ability of future generations to get outside and away from their TV screens could be diminished. The great thing about this program is that it doesn’t use taxpayer money. Instead, every year the program receives $900 million from offshore oil and gas revenues that is then put into a fund at the U.S. Treasury to invest in parks across the country.
With less than 75 days until this critical parks program will expire, we need our elected representatives to support legislation that would reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide it the full funding it richly deserves. We applaud our Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, who are cosponsors of legislation in support of the fund, part of a bipartisan effort to renew this popular parks program.
Latino families here in New Mexico and everyone in this country deserve to have parks and open spaces that we can enjoy and are well-maintained, funded and accessible to everyone. Renewing the Land Water and Conservation Fund ensures that we will have these special places available to enjoy and use freely for generations to come.
Vicente Garcia is program director of Juntos: Our Air, Our Water, a Latino environmental initiative committed to turning environmental values into state and local priorities.