By Javier Sierra
On November 2, Election Day, we, the voters, will have to ask ourselves the following question: Who shares our priorities?
By now you must have heard that this election is perhaps the most crucial in our lifetime. And it's true. What is at play now is nothing less than your health, that of your family and that of the entire country.
First, we need to keep in mind that 60% of Latinos live close to a toxic site, where the likelihood of getting sick from respiratory illnesses or cancer increases. No other community pays such a high price for the polluters' sins.
Your decision will be a grave one, and in order to help you make an informed one, I offer you a summary of President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry's environmental health records.
Let's start with the air we breathe. By weakening the laws that protect us all, President Bush lets power plants emit three times more mercury than what the current law allows. Also, he is undermining the laws that demand from power plants to install modern anti-pollution equipment if they opt for increasing production. This decision would exponentially increase deaths due to respiratory diseases and the asthma attacks.
Remember that the asthma epidemic hits our children especially hard. Among Latino kids, the incidence of this disease is 22 times higher than among white kids and 12 times higher than among African-American kids.
Kerry has sponsored legislation that would cut emissions of mercury, carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Also he voted for an amendment that would have delayed the administration's efforts to exclude power plants from installing anti-pollution equipment.
What about the candidates' records on the water we drink? Bush has proposed a directive to allow a combination of treated and untreated sewage to be discharged into waterways during storms. He has also left unprotected 20% of the country's wetlands, the natural system that filters and cleanses the water. And to top it all off, he has changed the laws so that mining companies can dump their waste into streams, lakes and rivers.
Given how close millions of Latinos live to toxic sites, we are especially vulnerable to water contamination. In the country's Superfund sites there is an enormous risk for poisons of great toxicity to seep down and taint underground water.
Kerry has repeatedly advocated for increased enforcement of clean water laws and voted to prevent the Bush administration from returning to a standard that would have allowed more arsenic in drinking water. Kerry also co-sponsored legislation that would have restored protection to wetlands.
But what millions of Latinos find really insulting is the destruction of wilderness areas. A study conducted by K-Mart concluded that the store's most appreciated item among Hispanics was a picnic basket. Latinos are passionate about enjoying nature.
President Bush is leading an offensive against the wilderness areas that belong to all of us. In the last four years, Bush has stripped public lands protection from an area larger than Texas and Oklahoma combined. He has also supported a steady increase of taxpayer subsidies to promote logging, oil and gas exploitation in national forests.
Consider that in a survey conducted among Latinos in the South West, 71% agreed that "our wilderness areas are part of God's creation, and we have a moral responsibility to take care of them and protect them."
Kerry shares this passion to protect nature. He supports permanent protection for America's remaining wild forests and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money to buy land for national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. Kerry has also promised to reduce the taxpayer subsidies to logging companies by $100 billion.
On November 2, take your children to the polls, if not by their hand, in your heart, and think about which candidate shares your priorities.
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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