By Javier Sierra
Are Mother Nature’s children behaving? This is the question we all should ask ourselves this April, the month that Earth Day is celebrated.
As far as the US Hispanics are concerned, we are. According to a survey conducted in the Southwest, more than 70% of Hispanics consider preserving the environment not only a family value but a religious one as well. Another poll in California, a micro-cosmos of the rest of the Hispanic community, reveals that 96% of Latinos believe it is important to protect the environment.
Then, how is it possible that three out of every five Hispanics live dangerously close to a toxic site, which makes us especially vulnerable to diseases like asthma and cancer?
The answer lies largely in the fact that among Mother Nature’s children there are too many polluters who poison the very environment we all depend on to survive. And many of these pollutersare either part or protégés of the Bush Administration, whose all-out offensive against nature covers three fronts: air, soil and water, the fundamental elements for life to exist on our planet.
Let’s start with the air we breathe. Eighty percent of Hispanics live in the counties where air pollution exceeds the maximum levels allowable by the federal government. The air is so bad that, throughout the country, asthma has become an epidemic among Hispanics, especially among Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Despite that fact the Bush Administration has weakened a key clean air protection that requires older factories to install modern pollution control technology when they make changes that increase pollution. They’ve created a big loophole, allowing thousands of tons of additional pollution.
Since 1980, the soil beneath our feet has benefited from the federal government’s policy that pollutersmust pay for the cleanup of toxic waste sites. Industries that left behind hazardous waste had to pay for the cleanup through a feethat funded a program called Superfund. Since then, more than 870 sites have been cleaned up and nearly 300 have been put into reuse, making families and communities safer. Butnearly 1,300 of the nation's worst toxic sites still have not been cleaned up and more are listed each year. Even so, the Bush Administration is the first administration since passage of the Superfund law that has failed to support the polluter pays principle, preferring instead to forcetaxpayers to foot the bill for toxic waste site cleanups. On tax day, part of your taxes paid to the federal government went to cleaning up someone else’s mess instead of protecting our parks or helping to enforce our current environmental protection laws.
And now for water: The EPA and the Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings, especially to expecting mothers and children, that they limit their consumption of fish, particularly tuna. Tuna and several other species of fish contain dangerous levels of mercury, a heavy metal that causes severe damage to the nervous system, particularly in unborn babies and small children. Coal-burning power plants are the main generators of this poison, which accumulate in fish after it reaches streams, lakes and the ocean. Even though available technology would eliminate 90% of mercury emissions in five years, the Bush Administration has proposed a plan that wouldpermit more mercury pollution for a decade longer.
There are many other examples of the attacks on the environment by Mother Nature’spolluters. National parks, natural treasures that belong to all of us, have been opened to logging and oil exploitation. And a recent decision has left 20 million acres of wetlands -- 20% of the country’s total wetlands acreage -- unprotected.
In the meantime, according to a plan leaked to the media recently, the Republican Party is recommending to candidates that,during this electoral year, they say the environment is “as healthy as ever,” “links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy,” “global warming is not a fact” or “the world's water is cleaner and reaching more people.”
It doesn’t matter that none of those statements is true. There are polluters who would do anything in order to maintain power, even lying about their own Mother.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. The Sierra Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.
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