Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at LULAC Women's Luncheon, As Prepared
Thanks, Viviane, and thanks to Brent Wilkes and everyone at LULAC for inviting me to join you today.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, our mission is to protect public health and the environment. EPA and LULAC share common roots—both born of popular movements where people stood up for their rights: rights to equal protection under the law, and rights to clean air, clean water, and healthy land.
I’m proud to be part of a long line of strong women who have led EPA, protecting our families’ health. We have work to do together.
One of my role models, Dolores Huerta, credited her mother, Alicia Chavez, for teaching her that everybody was equal. And when Dolores called on farmworkers to keep fighting for equal rights, when she told them “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”), she was speaking with her mother’s voice.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Familia: the Building Blocks of our Society.” Strong women like Alicia Chavez are the cornerstones of our families, and the foundations of social change and environmental protection. That’s why you’re here today.
You are leaders in your families, in your communities, and in your country. And when you take action, others follow.
By embracing the power of strong women in the cause of social justice, LULAC has made millions of lives better. Way back in 1938, just 10 years after your founding, you started your first national women’s office. Ever since then, you’ve kept on fighting for others.
In the same way, EPA has fought for 45 years to ensure environmental justice—to make sure that no matter who you are or where you come from, every American has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
In EPA’s 45 years, we’ve had some incredible successes. We’ve cut air pollution 70 percent, while our nation’s economy has tripled. We’ve cleaned up hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways and contaminated sites. And we’ve banned toxics like lead from our gasoline, and DDT pesticide from our farmland.
But I’ll be the first to tell you: our job is far from done. Across the country, low-income families, tribal populations, and communities of color are still overburdened by pollution. And pollution makes people sick, creating barriers to middle class security.
At LULAC, you’ve been closing gaps of opportunity for generations. That’s why we at EPA need you to work with us, because environmental pollution is another gap that we need to bridge. That’s why President Obama has sent me here today to ask for your help.
Today, there is no greater risk to our health, our economy, and our way of life, than global climate change. The carbon pollution fueling climate change leads not only to extreme heat and cold, more intense fires, floods, and superstorms; but when those disasters strike, those who have the least, suffer the most. The scale of the problem requires us to work together, with our communities, our nation, and countries around the world. And we need you to help us lead the way.
Two years ago, President Obama laid out a Climate Action Plan to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change, and to build a more resilient nation to face today’s impacts.
Last year, during Asthma Awareness Month, I went to Puerto Rico and visited people along San Juan’s Martin Peña Canal, who suffer from especially high asthma rates. Parents and children told me how asthma hinders more than breathing – it hurts their lives and their livelihoods, from higher medical bills, to lost work wages and school days.
Climate change already affects our health. Hotter weather brings more smog, longer allergy seasons, and more asthma. Puerto Rican children have the highest asthma rates among all ethnicities at 20 percent. Hispanic children are almost twice as likely to be hospitalized for an asthma attack as white children. Quite simply, that’s not acceptable.
That’s why this summer, EPA will deliver on a major piece of President Obama’s agenda when we finalize our Clean Power Plan, which will limit the carbon pollution causing climate change from our nation’s largest source – power plants.
When we cut carbon pollution, we also reduce the smog and soot that come with it. Under our plan, in the year 2030 alone, we’ll avoid up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks from reduced smog and soot. And that matters for the Latino community—LULAC estimates nearly 40 percent of Latinos live within 30 miles of a power plant. It matters to all of us.
This is about our kids, our families, our communities. As Latinas, you know that. As mothers, you know that. As leaders, you know that. That’s why we need your voices—that’s why we need your help on climate action.
Some critics will tell you this plan will hurt the poor, that it will hurt minorities, or that it’s going to raise utility rates. But the critics have always been wrong before, and they’re dead wrong again. We’re going to deliver the public health protections your children need, and that will get you the jobs of the future—today. That’s what this is all about.
Just as families with strong women at their hearts are the foundation of our society, a safe environment is the foundation of a sustainable, opportunity-rich economy.
I went to San Diego a few months ago, where I sat down with women farmworkers from Líderes Campesinas, to hear their stories and understand the challenges they face. For generations, farmworker women have led grassroots efforts to improve the quality of life in their communities. Speaking with those leaders was inspirational, but it also showed that we still have a lot of work to do.
That's why this fall, EPA is finalizing a rule to protect farmworkers—making sure they have the same protections on the job as workers in every other field.
Two very recent Supreme Court decisions show us progress is possible—one kept our health care accessible, and the other ensured marriage equality. And in the shadow of a tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina—hope and grace and dignity drove back the hatred that otherwise would have divided us.
Progress happens. We need to work together to spur it along.
Pope Francis showed he understood that last month when he called on all people to meet our moral obligation to act on climate change and protect those most vulnerable. No one knows better than LULAC—we have to fight together, or we’ll risk losing alone.
That’s why we need you as strong women and as leaders in your communities. Climate action matters to our families; it matters to the Latino community; it matters to the world. Your voices are powerful. So speak up and speak out. Get active, organize, do what you do best: lend your voice to those struggling to be heard.
Ever since 1929, women and LULAC have led the way. Dolores Huerta’s mother taught her that if we have the ability, then we have the obligation to help people come together and fight for their rights.
That same obligation drew me to public service and environmental protection. It empowers all women—and all people—to fight for our right to a healthy planet and a stable climate, for our children and future generations.