Millions of Latinos in Arizona honored their dead loved ones last month during the traditional day of the dead, but this year the remembrance came with a stronger sense of frustration and sorrow, knowing that many of those who have left us were taken too soon, their deaths preventable. That has been the case for thousands of Latino families in Arizona, who after years of exposure to toxic pollution could not survive the Covid pandemic that has ravaged our communities over the past two years.
These losses are not just a number quoted for headlines in the news coverage of the day. When we talk about air quality in our state, it is imperative to talk about the thousands of Latino families struggling with asthma. The reality is, 90% of Arizona’s Hispanic population lives in a county that received a failing grade for ozone air pollution from the American Lung Association. Currently there are 7.3 million people at risk from air pollution in Arizona, including the elderly, those with asthma, lung cancer, and the 3.3 million people of color who breathe polluted air every day.
Climate change-linked fires that ravaged our state this summer are also playing a major role in our air quality. As wildfire smoke spreads and impacts the daily lives of Arizonans, the communities bearing the brunt of this pollution are the Latino and African-American neighborhoods in south and west Phoenix, who sit in a bowl-like part of the Valley that smoke from fires tends to sink into.
All of these environmental injustices are a window into why Covid changed the reality for so many Latino families in Arizona and the United States. For many of us, the outcome is still unbearable. While all of the country faced the same enemy, not all of us had the same tools to fight back. In the case of Latinos in Arizona, the reality is that most of us were completely defenseless. The loved ones we lost passed away as a direct result of the decades of environmental inequality and injustice that plague our state’s history.
However, today we have a chance to change our history and bring justice to the communities that are so often left to carry a disproportionate burden of pollution and the climate crisis. Through the Build Back Better framework unveiled by President Biden in Washington D.C., Latinos in Arizona could see a radical change in their realities and their quality of life. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema could play a decisive role in achieving this. Her support is the key to unlock historic investments destined to improve the air quality in our states and the wellbeing of millions of Latino families here and around the country.
By building a nation powered by clean energy, the Build Back Better Act will not only lower the disproportionately high energy burdens that hurt Latino wallets, it will also provide our state with over 900,000 good-paying jobs, and it will also improve the air pollution that burdens our families.
If passed by Congress, this bill will result in historic investments for Latinos, creating a green investment fund with a focus on the deployment of clean energy with 40% of investments targeted to disadvantaged communities. It will also include environmental and climate justice block grants aimed at reducing pollution and improving public health for communities on the front lines of our nation’s most dangerous legacy environmental and health hazards.
The Build Back Better Act will result in transformative tax credits for clean electricity, vehicles, new technology and manufacturing, and will create jobs, jumpstart new businesses, help working families afford electric vehicles and more efficient appliances, and lower energy costs. According to Rhodium, the clean energy tax credits will help cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 45-51% below 2005 levels by 2030, cutting families’ household energy costs by an average of $500 a year.
Latinos in Arizona deserve the same chances at achieving success and living a healthy life as the rest of America. By voting for the Build Back Better Act, Senator Sinema would be ensuring a clean and safe environment and future for all Arizonians. Today, the chance to change our state’s history of climate injustices and build an equitable and just economy in Arizona is in her hands.
Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, represents the 20th District in the Arizona House of Representatives.