Growing up in Queens, NY, on the shores of Little Neck Bay, I remember my mother warning me not to play in the water because pollution would make me sick. Los Angeles is home now, a city that for decades was smog-choked. Unfortunately, these experiences are not unique to me—they are repeated in communities across the country. As a Nation, we have to work hard to make sure that our environment is protected and our communities are healthy, particularly in low income and minority communities who often bear the greatest pollution burden.
As Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), my job is to advise President Obama on environmental policy. CEQ works across the Federal Government on policies and programs that protect public health and the environment. Poor air quality is linked to cancer, respiratory illness and heart disease, and high rates of asthma that particularly affect Latino children. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that Hispanic children are about 60% more likely to have asthma as compared to non-Hispanic Whites. And According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 50 percent of all Hispanic-Americans live in counties that frequently violate groundlevel ozone standards. But the other reality is that poor air quality also affects our economic vitality, leading to missed school and work days, lower rates of economic investment in polluted communities, and ultimately lower productivity.
President Obama and his Administration believe that all Americans deserve clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. We have taken unprecedented steps to protect the health of our environment, our communities, and our economies. We have proposed new standards to cut toxic pollution from power plants, and raised fuel economy standards for both cars and trucks. This will save families money, reduce harmful pollution and improve public health.
A peer reviewed report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency found that in 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act saved 160,000 lives and prevented millions of cases of respiratory problems, including asthma and bronchitis.
Building and maintaining healthy communities also means sustainably growing our workforce and infrastructure. That’s why in the American Jobs Act the President proposed a $30 billion investment to put Americans back to work by repairing, renovating and improving the health and safety of our schools, many in the lowest-income school districts. By removing hazardous asbestos, performing emergency repairs, and making energy efficiency upgrades, we will strengthen our economy now and ensure that our children learn in an environment second to none.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the progress we’ve made and recognize the work we still have to do. These days Little Neck is a popular fishing and kayaking spot. The air in Los Angeles is cleaner and healthier. We can make a difference and make this country better for everyone. I believe a healthier, more sustainable America is within our reach.
Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality