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The upcoming November election contains a ballot initiative that will threaten all Californians’ health and safety. But the Latino community will suffer disproportionate harm. Proposition 23 will undo California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as Assembly Bill 32, or “A.B. 32,” which has catalyzed billions of dollars in private sector investment in clean energy in the state—creating jobs, businesses, and new technologies that are leading the nation toward a cleaner energy future. Repealing A.B. 32 will make it easier for the worst polluters to continue poisoning Latino communities, exacerbate unemployment in industries where Latinos are already suffering, and weaken opportunities for jobs and wealth building for Latinos in the green economy.
The dirty forces behind Proposition 23 are masking their efforts as “job promotion.” But California’s Latino families should not be fooled. These families have a strong tradition of standing up for the health and safety of their children and communities—especially against environmental threats. They should keep that tradition alive and vote “no” on Proposition 23.
California Latinos are already the most at-risk
Pollution already threatens vast numbers of Latinos in California. They are regularly exposed to dirty air and water, which increases their risk of developing numerous health problems.
A 2007 study of California’s Bay Area found that more than half of Latinos live within one or two miles of a Toxics Release Inventory facility tracked by the Environmental Protection Agency. The same study noted that 17 percent of Latinos were at the “most risk” for cancer, and 24 percent were at the “highest hazard ratio” for respiratory disease.
In San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, where 85 percent of residents are Latino, asthma rates are 28 percent—four times the national average. Overall, one in six Latinos has been diagnosed with asthma in California.
In California’s Central Valley, where Latinos account for 30 percent of the population, air pollution increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations for respiratory conditions according to a 2003 study by the California Air Resource Board. Six of the 25 most polluted counties in the nation are in the Central Valley, and together these counties are home to 1.1 million Latinos.
Latinos also comprise 60 percent of the people living within a half mile of the top 100 emitters of toxic pollutants in Los Angeles County. This is despite the fact that Latinos make up only 44 percent of the county’s population.
Finally, eighty-five percent of California’s agricultural workers are Latino, making them more likely to be exposed to toxic pesticides and contaminated drinking water. This exposure, in turn, drastically increases the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit disorder, and birth defects.
Proposition 23 will cost Latinos more than their health
The above health disparities are only made worse by California Latinos’ lack of health care. They are three times more likely to be uninsured compared to whites, and this kind of vulnerability can be devastating. Last year, 20 percent of uninsured adults used up all or most of their savings paying medical bills, and many uninsured families pay more than 10 percent of their total family income for out-of-pocket health care costs.
Proposition 23 will not just increase health care costs, however—it will also make electricity 33 percent more expensive. Latinos, who are disproportionately low income, also spend a greater portion of their family budget on electricity than those with higher incomes.
Latino families, with their already limited budgets, will experience even more financial hardship if Proposition 23 passes.
The initiative makes Latinos’ job situation worse
California’s Latinos are suffering from the recession. A.B. 32 would generate billions of dollars in investments in industries that employ Latinos, but passing Proposition 23 would prevent this from happening.
California’s unemployment rate has already reached 12.3 percent. This number is even worse for Latinos, however, who face unemployment rates as high as 15 percent. Their rates may reach 17.6 percent by this fall.
The recession has hit the construction and manufacturing sectors particularly hard, and many Latinos, including recent immigrants, have historically found work and gained access to wealth building and the middle class in these sectors.
Proposition 23 would destroy half a million jobs in California (many in construction and high-tech manufacturing) by 2020 while costing the state $80 billion in gross domestic product. But this number does not even include the $20 billion in GDP growth and 100,000 new clean energy jobs California can create in the next 10 years if its environmental and clean energy policies are upheld (and Proposition 23 is voted down).
Proposition 23 sponsors would add insult to injury
Two Texas-based oil companies, Valero and Tesoro, are the primary sponsors of Proposition 23. They’ve raised over $3.1 million for the campaign so far. If Proposition 23 is passed, California’s strong emission regulations will be repealed, making it even easier for these companies to gain record profits from harming Latino communities.
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the California Environmental Justice Alliance released a report exposing the toxic profiteering of these companies. They process the dirtiest type of oil, known as “sour crude.” This variety contains the highest levels of poisonous sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. The report notes that in California, “Tesoro and Valero prefer using this kind of dirty oil 2 to 1.”
Both companies repeatedly violate pollution laws in California, and together they operate 4 out of the 15 worst state facilities that contribute to pollution. Both companies, for example, have facilities in Wilmington, South Los Angeles, which are ranked number two and nine on the list. That city has a Latino population of 85 percent.
Latino leaders reject Proposition 23
Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told Texas oil companies to “go home” at a “No on 23” rally this week. He joins numerous prominent California Latino leaders in denouncing the initiative. Likewise, Latino business leaders have recognized that Proposition 23 will increase California’s dependence on foreign oil and weaken the opportunity to lead the worldwide clean energy revolution.
Finally, organizations like Green for All, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Prop have begun to successfully mobilize the Latino community to fight back against this harmful campaign.
Proposition 23 is all pain and no gain for Latino families. Latinos are already one of the most at-risk populations in California for environmental hazards largely due to the polluting of companies like Tesoro and Valero. These companies are seeking to increase their profits by poisoning more Californians, particularly Latinos.
Proponents of Proposition 23 are disguising it as a job-protecting initiative, but in reality it will hurt the state’s economy by reducing jobs, curbing investment in clean energy, and increasing the cost of electricity.
Latino families should reject this dirty air initiative and vote “no” on Proposition 23 for these reasons.
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Jorge Madrid is a Research Associate at American Progress.