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Executive Director Remarks at the EPA Beyond Translation Conference

Monday, September 15, 2008   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Yisel Cabrera
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Prepared Remarks by

Octavio Hinojosa

Executive Director

Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute

Monday, September 15, 2008

Environment Protection Agency Beyond Translation National Forum

Washington, DC

Thank you for the introduction. I am honored to be here this morning on behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI).

I appreciate the invitation extended to me to participate this morning and to provide brief remarks on this first of its kind forum, which brings together EPA and other public officials, Hispanic community leaders, representatives of non-profit organizations, state and local government officials, and many others who share the same concern on our environment.

We are here this morning thanks to the leadership and vision of one person in particular and I want to take this opportunity to recognize and personally thank Julissa Marenco for her leadership on this important issue for all American regardless of our own background.

As some of you may know, Julissa is a great example of how we, as Americans of Hispanic descent, can provide great insight and leadership in the public policy arena. As a White House Fellow this past year at EPA, Julissa has demonstrated one of the underlying reasons why our organization, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute was founded – - To Advance the Hispanic community's Diversity of Thought.

Five years ago, in 2003, the Hispanic community of the United States was officially recognized as our nation's second largest demographic group. Today, Hispanics number 45 million or 15% of our national population.

Coinciding with the official announcement as our nation's largest minority community, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute was founded in the fall of 2003 by a group of Members of Congress who recognized there is a strong need for our community to promote and embrace the concept of diversity of thought among the leadership of our nation's Hispanic national organizations and community, as well as to provide an alternative view of our community's emerging role in the national public policy agenda.

In keeping faithful with our status as a non-profit organization, CHLI is committed to providing a non-partisan view on key issues. Since its foundation, CHLI has been strongly committed to providing a forum for open discussion on issues of great importance to the U.S. Hispanic community throughout our fifty states and Puerto Rico. In addition, CHLI recognizes the growing need for leadership and direction of our community beyond on our national borders by actively engaging the international community.

In a nutshell, CHLI offers the U.S. Hispanic community a vision of the American Dream that focuses upon self-reliance, education, entrepreneurship and family values. We believe that this will provide relief to the underprivileged, lessen the burden of government, promote social welfare, eliminate prejudice and discrimination and combat community deterioration and neglect.

CHLI has provided leadership by bringing thought leaders from all sectors to discuss issues such as free trade, small business, immigration, English acquisition, housing, health care and others as well. Today, we are honored to step up to the plate with you this morning to discuss an important issue facing each of us today and for the rest our lives. I am speaking of course on the environment or as we refer to it in Spanish – El Medio Ambiente.

Understandably, this must be a top public policy issue for Americans of Hispanic decent. Due to our demographic and economic growth, Hispanics will play a greater role and have an increasing impact on our local communities, at the state and national level, and even at the international community.

As CHLI's Executive Director, I am honored to work closely with our Congressional Board of Directors who through their leadership and public service provide our growing community with strong representation and leadership in the United States Congress on the issue of the environment.

For example, CHLI Founder and current Chairman is Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida who is strong advocate of protecting human health and environment. He is also committed with finding cost-effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions and working to identify multiple forms of energy efficient technology to help preserve the environment. His strong support of The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which captures freshwater destined for the sea - the lifeblood of the Everglades - and directs it back to the ecosystem to revitalize it. More importantly, it is improving regional water supplies, provides flood control for South Florida and protects wildlife.

And speaking of the Everglades, which is within the 25th Congressional District of Florida, we have Representative Mario Diaz-Balart providing strong stewardship of our nation's largest subtropical wilderness and serves along with Representative Alcee L. Hastings founded the Everglades Caucus in the House of Representatives. TheCaucus' mission isto promote legislation which will provide long-term funding for Everglades related projects which will ensure preservation of this unique ecosystem. By organizing a group of interested Members to offer a singlevoice in support of these goals, the Caucusis instrumental in assuring vital Everglades funding and restoration.

For her part, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, our nation's first Hispanic woman in Congress, has demonstrated strong leadership in protecting the sensitive ecosystems found within her Congressional district including the Florida Keys. She founded the National Marine Sanctuary Caucus, a bi-partisan organization, co-chaired by Rep. Lois Capps of California, which was established to raise Congressional awareness about the essential role national sanctuaries play in protecting marine habitats. In addition, she has worked hard on combating beach erosion and protecting coral reefs within our national jurisdiction.

Another strong champion of the environment is Senator Mel Martinez of Florida who recently cited his leadership on this important issue by voting in the United States Senate to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 70 percent, to increase automobile fuel-efficiency standards to their highest level in 25 years, and voting to increase incentives for the production of wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy and supporting legislation to reduce carbon emissions.

Another great example of leadership by one of CHLI's Congressional Board Members is Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas who's 28th Congressional District borders Mexico, an area of high concern for Hispanics when it comes to the environment. The U.S. – Mexico border, for example, is home to 12 million people and extends more than 2,000 miles (3,100 kilometers) from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. The "Border Region” itself extends 62.5 miles (100 kilometers) on each side of the international border. This diverse area includes large deserts, numerous mountain ranges, rivers, wetlands, large estuaries, and shared aquifers. With his vast experience and familiarity in U.S. Mexico relations, Congressman Cuellar is demonstrating strong leadership in working on border related environmental concerns.

In keeping with the goal's of today's conference to effectively engage the U.S. Hispanic community as partners in environmental stewardship, allow me to provide a few thoughts on the growing importance of the environment and the opportunities of leadership as it relates to this important segment of our nation.

I am delighted to learn, for example, that a growing number of Hispanics, myself included, are thinking green – estamos pensando en verde y ya es hora.

As any other individual, we share the same concerns about global warming, economic sustainability and the environment. Perhaps, we may be even a bit more sensitive on this issue then we realize. According to a December 2007 Mintel survey, Asian-Americans were more likely to purchase green products then their African-American and Hispanic counterparts. However, 40 percent of those Hispanics who were surveyed stated that purchase green products always or almost always, while 60 percent said they never or almost never do.

Another survey this past March found Hispanic voters are overwhelming concerned about global warming and environmental issues. Considering, for example, over 91% percent of Hispanics reside within metropolitan areas where poor air quality may increase the risk of illnesses such as asthma and cancer. In addition, 80% of those surveyed stated that energy and environmental issues have "a lot” or "some” impact on their respective quality of life and health of their families. On the positive side, more than 80% felt that "shifting to a new ‘clean energy economy' could create millions of jobs, improve quality of the environment and protect everyone's children.” In the end, this survey in particular shows that individuals can help protect our environment by our own personal decisions on the products we buy and use on a daily basis.

When it comes to Hispanics and their environment, there are two distinct challenges and opportunities, which if we address effectively, will help increase our leadership on this important issue.

The first is education. Education is the key to raising a conscious society, a responsible community, and a responsive individual. Increasing opportunities to educate our citizens and finding effective communications in both English and Spanish is crucial to ensuring we each play are role in protecting the environment as informed citizens.

The second area of challenge and opportunity is economics. This past year, 2007, the U.S. Hispanic community became our nation's second largest economic group in terms of purchasing power. Our purchasing power this year is $870 billion dollars and is projected to reach $1 trillion dollars in 2010 and $1.3 trillion by 2015. Our collective wealth makes the U.S. Hispanic community the world's ninth largest economy and will exceed the GNP of countries such of Spain, Brazil and Mexico, if it has not done so already.

As the nation's only demographic group that is not just replacing itself, but is actually growing exponentially in both percentage and real numbers – one of every two Americans born today, for example, is Hispanic – we will play an increasing role in our nation's economy. The products we purchase and the dollars we spend both here at home and send abroad in the form of over $60 billion dollars in remittances will have a serious impact in the direction we take when it comes to the environment.

Americans of Hispanic descent must demonstrate leadership when it comes to the environment as direct result of increasing demographics and economic clout both here at home and abroad. And why abroad? Let's begin with our border with Mexico.

Ninety percent of the border population resides in 14 paired, inter-dependent sister cities, such as San Diego – Tijuana, Mexicali – Calexico, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. These sister cities are experiencing tremendous urban growth and sprawl as a result of increase economic opportunities found within both sides of the border. Increase populations bring with them increase traffic congestion, waste generation, overburdened and unavailable waste treatment and disposal facilities.

As someone who has crossed the U.S. Mexico border countless times throughout its entire length, I can personally testify there are still great disparities between both countries and its citizens when it comes to addressing issues on the environment. It is projected that the entire U.S. Mexico border region will increase to nearly 20 million people by 2020.

Perhaps herein lies an area of opportunity for Americans of Hispanic descent. To best face the challenges of the environment within our local, state and national jurisdictions, we must identify effective ways to increase the recruitment, employment and the professional development of Hispanics within the Environmental Protection Agency and throughout the entire federal government. One of CHLI's key objectives is to "promote the employment by Federal, state and local governmental agencies of Hispanic descent.”

Today's federal hiring practices of Hispanics are simply not doing the job. While we are 15% of the nation's population, we are still less then five percent of the federal workforce. We must address the underlying issue that the term "minority” is not synonymous with one demographic group in particular. At the all levels of government, the under representation of Hispanic employees is a serious hindrance in providing effective and responsive services to an importantsegment of our population that is fastest growing, the youngest and perhaps the most vulnerable when it comes to issues concerning the health and the environment.

The Hispanic employee brings with him and herself a unique perspective on issues and will provide any organization with much needed diversity of thought to meet current and future challenges. I am confident that our youth today will make valuable employees tomorrow within the EPA. Julissa Marenco is clearly a perfect example of diversity of thought in action.

Another area regarding the environment that must be address head on and where the Hispanic employee or environmental activist can play a decisive role pertains to Latin America; its economic growth and sustainability and the relationship this has with immigration and quality of life.

As I alluded to earlier, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute was founded on the basis of advancing the Hispanic community's diversity of thought and to provide an alternative view of the issues facing our nation's largest minority community. Many of us here today continue to enjoy close family ties with relatives in our countries of origin throughout the Americas. Some of us perhaps are ourselves immigrants to this country who have come her in search of better opportunities and quality of life.

We are cognizant of the fact the poor stewardship of the environment by some Latin American countries have resulted to increase pressure to migrant to other countries in search of better economic opportunities. If we do not work hand in hand with Latin American governments, NGO's and its private sector to address the challenges of promoting economic growth and sustainability and the lack thereof, then the environment and its sustainability will pay a high price and will increase the pressure of individuals to migrate to other countries such as the United States. As Americans of Hispanic decent the call for leadership as it relates to Latin America is loud and we have the unique perspective to help promote best practices within this important region of our world.

In closing, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute joins you in raising awareness of the importance of the environment as it pertains to our country's Hispanic community. Today's Beyond Translation Forum serves as an ideal stepping stone for each of us to play a leadership role in building stronger community partnerships, increasing awareness of potential economic opportunities with green technologies and practices, as well as creating vital networks of employment and professional development of Hispanic employees. We welcome the challenge and opportunity to work closely with each of you and other stakeholders, especially as it relates to our nation's large and growing Spanish-speaking community, which is today the fifth largest in the world (after Mexico, Spain, Colombia and Argentina).

On this the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month and on behalf of CHLI's Board of Directors and staff, we wish all of you a very productive conference today.

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