Yesterday, President Obama visited the Environmental Protection Agency for an employee town hall to praise the work of the agency on protecting the environment and public health. In his first time ever visit to EPA, Obama told the staff that he would “stand with [them] every inch of the way as [they] carry out your mission to make sure that we've got a cleaner world.”
This visit comes at a time when EPA is in the crosshairs of many in the Republican Party both on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill with repeated claims that environmental protection cannot co-exist with job growth. But as NRDC President Frances Beinecke stated, “an agency that can create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term jobs and prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths with just one clean air standard has proven that public health protection and economic growth go hand-in-hand.
The President is right, “we don't have to choose between dirty air and dirty water, or a growing economy.” Americans need jobs and good health to prosper in the competitive global economy of the 21st century.
Nowhere is this truer than in minority communities where blacks continue to face high unemployment rates with the rate increasing slightly from 15.5% to 15.8%.
Unemployment among Latinos has improved slightly, but continues higher than the national average at 11%.
Sadly, these communities are also the ones most badly battered by pollution. In 2011, NRDC published a report examining the impact of air pollution on Latino communities and the millions of children affected by ozone pollution (a leading cause of lung disease), mercury (a potent brain toxin) and other toxic air pollutants.
Fortunately, in a long awaited gift to children everywhere, the President signed the first ever limits on mercury pollution. Unfortunately for the 50 million Latinos affected by ozone, the calls President’s statements this Tuesday won’t undo his September 2011 decision to delay a revision of the ozone standard, capitulating to industry and leaving millions of Americans’ health at risk.
President Obama is correct when he said: “When we put in place new commonsense rules to reduce air pollution, we create new jobs building and installing all sorts of pollution-control technology.” If the administration continues to support EPA, these new jobs can and will go a long way in employing Latinos and blacks who have these skills and are eager to put them to good use.
EPA’s work “touches on the lives of every, single American every, single day and help[s] make sure that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods we eat are safe.”
We shouldn't force Americans to sacrifice such basic rights and protections nor burden the most vulnerable populations with the worst impacts.
Our leaders in Washington must allow EPA to do its job if we want these protections and jobs to materialize. President Obama’s visit shows his intent to do just that.
Linda Escalante contributed to this post.