Protecting the Clean Power Plan: An organizer’s plea for her community

After being denied a public hearing by the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency to share the need to protect the Clean Power Plan, Maryland leaders held a hearing Thursday, January 11, 2018. Here is the testimony delivered before a panel by Johana Vicente, Chispa Maryland’s community organizer. Announced on the same day, three additional February dates in other states were been set, along with a comment period extension to April 26th. Photo credit: Matt Roth for LCV

Good afternoon,

My name is Johana Vicente and I have been a resident of Montgomery County, Maryland for more than a decade. I stand before you today as a concerned community member and a proud organizer of Chispa Maryland, a community organizing program of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters growing the political power of Latinos for climate action.

I am here today to defend the Clean Power Plan – its protection is urgent to me and the communities that are most impacted by filthy air and industry pollution.

Often times, words like “climate change” and “pollution” seem very big and broad — terms that we cannot fully grasp. The issues may seem like a far away thing that is not really affecting us. However, it is affecting us more than we think.

I have witnessed the impact that environmental pollution has on the health of people, especially communities of color and children from those very same communities.

From meeting a concerned mother who is worried about whether her child with asthma will breathe to a concerned teacher with absent student who are home due to respiratory problems, the effects of environmental pollution are clear – they are real concerns.

On a personal level, as a child who had only lived in the United States a few years, I watched as my mother went to the hospital for the first time. Not because of an injury, but because of her inability to breath. There, in the hospital room, she was diagnosed with asthma only two years after we arrived in this country.

This is a painful memory that I still remember vividly to this day and it was one of the scariest ones I have.

Candida, a mother and powerful community leader in Hyattsville, had to navigate the medical system to treat her son’s severe asthma – all while speaking very little English. As the PTA president of her children’s school, she asked the principal what the leading cause of absences were and he listed respiratory problems as a main factor – unsurprising as it’s an area plagued by air pollution.

And, Candida is not alone. Another Hyattsville mother, Clenia, also has a child with severe breathing issues, it’s what motivated her to be an environmental activist fighting these very issues.

Tyrese, a teacher and mother from Mount Rainier, has a 9-year-old daughter that suffers from severe asthma. Her child has been hospitalized because of her respiratory problems.

Graciela, a high school student in Hyattsville, has to worry every single school day about whether riding her diesel-run school bus will trigger her asthma attacks.

And the list goes on and on.

The Clean Power Plan represents a much-needed link to protect the health of low income communities and communities of color in Maryland. With 68% of African Americans and nearly 40% Latinos living within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant in in our state, the Clean Power Plan and its environmental justice provisions is crucial for the health and safety of families like Clenia, Tyrese, Candida or Graciela.

For them and many more families like them in our state and across the nation, the Clean Power Plan provides the tools to not only protect their communities from the disproportionate and detrimental health effects from fossil fuel burning power plants, but also to reap some of the economic benefits of clean energy.

We must leave a better environment for generations to come. And, this plan represents an opportunity to move forward and protect our mother earth and its inhabitants.

Other groups in attendance included GreenLatinos, Moms Clean Air Force and LULAC, with representatives from each sharing the need to keep the Clean Power Plan protected from rollbacks.

Clockwise from left: Juan Carlos Perez, from League of United Latin American Citizens, Amanda Arias, with Solidarity Strategies, and Amanda Aguirre of GreenLatinos. Photo credit by Matt Roth for LCV

Among those was Hispanic Access Foundation, led by President Maite Arce.

“The Clean Power Plan is a public health policy that is critical to safeguarding clean air in our communities. We have a moral obligation to protect the health of the environment for future generations and maintaining the Clean Power Plan is a step towards a future of healthy, vibrant and sustainable communities. We applaud the leadership of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and the Maryland General Assembly who are committed to providing opportunities for communities to voice their health and environmental concerns in relation to the EPA’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan,” she said in a Latino coalition statement, before the hearing.

Jennifer Brandt, with Hispanic Access Foundation, Amanda Aguirre of GreenLatinos , Juan Carlos Perez, with League of United Latin American Citizens, Jessica Loya, with Hispanic Access Foundation, and Amanda Arias from Solidarity Strategies. Photo by Matt Roth for LCV

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