This year, all across the nation, Chispa has used our grassroots power to influence policy makers and pressure polluters to protect communities’ rights to clean air and water, healthy neighborhoods, and a safe climate.
We focused much of our effort on fighting for Clean Buses for Healthy Niños. Since we started this campaign in 2017, Chispa has helped drive conversations about the dangers that toxic diesel school buses pose to children’s health, and we’ve connected communities with a historic opportunity to make change. Across the country, we’ve called on decision makers to use the Volkswagen settlement funds for clean, electric school buses — more than 100,000 parents, students and supporters have signed petitions, hosted community meetings, testified at legislative hearings, passed local resolutions and rallied for cleaner school buses for our kids.
Governors have taken note and have begun allocating Volkswagen funds to replace school buses in highly impacted communities, and we’re seeing partners celebrate the announcements of exciting electric school bus pilot programs and targeted allocations. But there is still more to be done — our teams are helping local school districts in low-income and communities of color apply for allocated funds directly. And where Volkswagen Mitigation Plans haven’t gone far enough to invest in electric school buses, we will continue to hold governors and governors-elect accountable.
Here are this year’s Chispa highlights from all across the country:
ChispaNevada, as part of its nonpartisan civic engagement program, worked to register and turnout Latino voters, who make up nearly 30 percent of Nevada’s population. Chispa Nevada’s promotores showed immense leadership, making more than 39,000 calls urging Latinos to vote. During these get-out-the-vote shifts, Chispa Nevada had special guests like America Ferrera stop by to energize volunteers and promotores.
Chispa Arizona joined the fight to ensure public lands are more inclusive of and accessible to all communities. Chispa Arizona authored “Parks for the People,” a report centering the Latinx experience in the fight for public lands and for a more just, relatable environmental movement. Working with local and state partners, Chispa Arizona then launched a localized campaign to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to raise awareness of such critical programs within Latinx communities, who are eager for cleaner, quality open spaces. During the 2018 elections, Chispa Arizona volunteers also knocked on more than 30,000 doors in Tucson helping to pass Proposition 407, which will invest more than $225 million into local parks and trails.
Colorado’s Protegete continued to build local leadership and power within Latino communities. After organizing a back-to-school seminar and backpack giveaway for 40 low-income families, Protegete recruited more than a dozen promotores who wanted to make change happen in their neighborhoods. The promotores joined an existing project to open a community garden and, with the help of local partners, opened the garden this year. Protegete promotores continue to be involved with the garden and are now taking a more active role in their communities, speaking on panels, writing letters to elected officials, and helping educate and mobilize other voters within their neighborhoods.
Chispa Maryland also worked to amplify decision making within local communities of color. The third annual Festival del Rio brought together more than 500 people and 30 exhibitors to connect Latinxs with local environmental organizations and issues. As one of the founders of Festival del Rio, Chispa Maryland organizes the yearly event to help communities of color learn more about local environmental issues, identify solutions, and join with others looking to address similar problems. Promotores and organizers are key to organizing the festival and will continue growing this community event to celebrate Latinxs’ connection to the natural environment.
Chispa Connecticut began an innovative program to help bring more community leaders into the conservation movement. Organizers created a training program for youth that combines organizing skills-building with the basics of film photography. Students not only learned how to organize their neighbors, they also used photography as a lens to analyze and illustrate the impact of environmental pollution on Connecticut’s communities of color. As Chispa Connecticut continues its work tackling environmental justice issues — such as joining university student groups in advocating for a just recovery for Puerto Rico — they are looking for new ways to demonstrate to promotores and volunteers the urgency and importance of organizing.
Juntos: Our Air, Our Water in New Mexico has also taken on youth outreach, educating middle school students on environmental racism by touring specific examples of injustices within their communities. Along with the SouthWest Organizing Project, Juntos is helping staff at Washington Middle School develop an environmental justice curriculum that will continue this long-term education. Juntos has also been working with Together for Brothers (T4B) to participate in the Lots of Interesting Things (LIT) summit at another middle school. Our movement can’t grow without bringing the next generation to the table, and Juntos understands that engaging youth of color will add more voices speaking for our communities.
We’re excited to take on the next phases of this work, especially as we begin 2019 with a full national team. Astrid, Fernando, Johana, Julie and Pita bring decades of organizing and communications experience to the national Chispa team and are hitting the ground running. Together with our partners across the country, we’ll work every day to build the power of communities of color and secure our families’ access to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment for generations to come.
At every turn, the Trump administration has prioritized polluters over people. They’re now working to replace President Obama’s Clean Power Plan with a rule that could lead to 1,400 premature deaths, by the administration’s own calculation. In fact, this administration is so intent on shutting people out of the decision-making process that they only held one public hearing, in Chicago, to gather input on the proposal, which is more accurately titled the Dirty Power Scam.
The Clean Power Plan was the biggest step we’ve ever taken to combat the catastrophic impacts of climate change and would have helped us to meet our Paris Climate Agreement goals. Climate change is affecting our communities right now — from devastating wildfires record flooding, droughts to more powerful hurricanes. We must ensure moving forward that communities – particularly low income and communities of color – no longer suffer from the negative consequences of this administration’s attacks on our health and inaction on climate change.
Three members of LCV and Chispa staff flew to Chicago to ensure that our opposition to this disastrous proposal was heard.
Julio Zuniga, an organizer for Chispa Arizona, shared the struggles of the high school students he coaches in the South of Phoenix, Arizona: “It’s difficult to see so many of them suffer from debilitating respiratory illnesses. Our high school is located in a highly polluted area … This Dirty Power Scam is unacceptable. We cannot put the lives of Latino children at risk, causing them to miss academic and athletic opportunities because of preventable asthma attacks.”
Katherine Lorenzo, a senior organizer for Chispa Nevada, told the EPA that, “Repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan would be a direct attack on Latino communities who already disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change … Latinos are suffering from asthma at higher rates and paying the price with their health, jobs and future. I know because I see it daily — in fellow organizers, in volunteers, and in their children.”
As Sara Chieffo, LCV’s vice president of Government Affairs, said, “This draft proposal also fails to do what’s best for the tens of millions of people in this country who suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments exacerbated by air pollution. It perpetuates the environmental and systemic racism in this country that has meant communities of color and lower income communities are the ones bearing the brunt of our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.”
Read Julio, Katherine, and Sara’s full testimonies below:
Hello, my name is Julio Zuniga. I’m an organizer with Chispa Arizona, a grassroots organizing program of the League of Conservation Voters. I’m here today to ask that you reject the Trump Administration’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan and deny their efforts to replace it with this Dirty Power Scam that would put my community at risk.
I want to share with you today what it’s like to watch your students struggle to breathe each day.
I’m a high school coach in south side Phoenix, an area of town where many families of color live. I coach the girl’s track and field team, a group of motivated young women who are dreaming of earning scholarships for college. Most of my students come from black or Latino families of modest means, families who likely can’t afford to send their kids to college without financial help. As a Latino immigrant who grew up poor and undocumented, and who struggled to make it through college, I know what that’s like. I’m very proud of my team and of my student athletes.
That’s why it’s been difficult to see so many of them suffer from debilitating respiratory illnesses. Our high school is located in a highly polluted area, just a couple of miles from a major airport, three freeways, and a few industrial plants. Several of my students run and train each day with inhalers in their pockets. Four out of 20 students in my team have had asthma attacks in practice. Four. Four times in the field over the last year I’ve witnessed young girls buckle in pain, struggling to breathe.
I’ll never forget the first time this happened, when my student Jessica started gasping for air in front of me. I didn’t know what to do or how to help. At first I thought she was suffering from an anxiety attack, until it became obvious that breathing — the very act of breathing — was the problem.
Jessica got so sick from her respiratory illness that she spent weeks in the hospital and didn’t return to school for about a month. Once she came back, she was too weak to continue training. Her season was over. Jessica is a sophomore in high school and this set her back a full year in track and field. This significantly diminishes her chances of receiving an athletic scholarship for college.
As a coach, you’re used to being a little tough on your students. You want to motivate them, and you don’t want to hear excuses. But now I know, if one of my students says they can’t run, five times out of ten it’s because they’re struggling with their asthma. And so now I’m asking a new set of questions at each practice: Did you bring your inhaler? How’s your asthma today? Are you having trouble breathing?
It’s heartbreaking to be in this position. But it’s not surprising. Communities of color like the ones my students come from are much more likely to bear the burden of pollution. Families of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher levels of toxins in the air. Latinos are 60% more likely to visit the hospital for asthma than their non-Hispanic white peers. Latino children are twice as likely to die from asthma attacks compared to non-Hispanic white children.
You heard that right: Latino children are twice as likely to end up in the hospital from asthma attacks. In Arizona, the American Lung Association has found there are 131,515 kids suffering from childhood asthma. Earlier this year, the ALA ranked the Phoenix metropolitan area as the 8th most ozone-polluted city in the nation. These levels of pollution don’t just affect the kids struggling to breathe; they hurt their entire family. Parents have to miss work, students have to miss school and families rack up tremendous medical bills in doctors’ visits or hospitalizations, not to mention the emotional toll.
I see these ripple effects each day not only as a coach, but as an organizer for Chispa Arizona. I joined Chispa because after seeing the injustices low-income and communities of color endure, I wanted to work for an organization that was fighting not only for the environment but for my community and my students’ rights to clean air and healthy futures. Working with Chispa, I’ve been able to advocate for an end to fossil fuel pollution, from asking Arizona to transition from diesel-powered school buses to electric, zero-emission school buses to calling on our elected officials to support 50% renewable energy by 2050.
Today, I feel a lot less powerless than I did that terrifying afternoon, watching Jessica suffer from an asthma attack. Because I know now that we can do better for our kids. The Clean Power Plan would help protect communities like ours by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. If enacted, the Clean Power Plan could prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children, 300,000 missed work and school days, and 3,600 premature deaths every year by 2030. In comparison, the Trump administration’s proposal could cost up to 1,4000 lives every year by 2030.
This Dirty Power Scam is unacceptable. We cannot put the lives of Latino children at risk, causing them to miss academic and athletic opportunities because of preventable asthma attacks. By repealing the Clean Power Plan and replacing it with this Dirty Power Scam, we are robbing our children of a healthy future.
Our kids need and deserve to live in communities with clean air. I ask you to reject this proposal and instead implement the Clean Power Plan.
Hello and thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Katherine Lorenzo and I am from Las Vegas. I’m here today as a Senior Organizer for Chispa Nevada, a grassroots organizing program of the League of Conservation Voters, and I’ve come to ask that you reject Donald Trump and Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s Dirty Power Scam.
Being an organizer is something I’m truly passionate about. I started community organizing as a teenager, registering people to vote in the Southern Nevada Latino neighborhoods I grew up in. Since joining Chispa Nevada two years ago, I’ve come to meet and learn from dozens if not hundreds of mothers, fathers, children, students, and community members concerned about climate change, environmental pollution, and the futures of the next generation. Since learning of the Trump administration’s plan to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan, we’ve been even more worried.
Repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan would be a direct attack on Latino communities who already disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change. In Nevada, our communities are struggling to breathe in cities and counties that have received failing grades. Las Vegas has already been ranked the 12th most polluted city in the nation by the American Lung Association this year. More than 44,000 children and more than 180,000 adults currently suffer from asthma in the state. Latinos are suffering from asthma at higher rates and paying the price with their health, jobs and future. I know because I see it daily — in fellow organizers, in volunteers, and in their children.
I see it in Jacob, one of our youth promotores. Jacob is just a teenager, but he’s suffered from asthma for years, His asthma has gotten so bad that he’s taking steroids. His family has had their entire lives changed because of this, having to alter their daily routines and budgets to fit in more doctors visits and trips to the hospital. I see it in Pablo, Jacob’s friend, who was just diagnosed with asthma and is beginning a new, difficult journey. I see it in William, the three-year old son of our state program director who had his first asthma attack this summer and spent nearly a week in the hospital, breathing through tubes.
Yet asthma attacks are preventable and the effects of climate change can be reduced, and at Chispa Nevada, we’re fighting back by organizing Nevadans of color around the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, an effort demanding the state use Volkswagen settlement funds to replace dirty diesel school buses with zero-emission, electric school buses. We’re also calling on Nevada to embrace its clean energy potential by increasing the share of energy we get from renewables to 50 percent by 2030. And we’re giving our community members the tools they need to organize their own families and friends to speak up when they see or experience environmental injustices.
Because Latinos want our elected leaders to act. Nearly 80 percent of Latinos see climate change as a serious problem and 90 percent want to see actions taken to address it. Latinos recognize that the best way to reduce the pollution that makes climate change even worse is to transition to clean, renewable energy. In fact, 86 percent already support limiting carbon pollution from power plants, like the Clean Power Plan does.
Being an organizer, I know what it takes to get public support for a project. And we saw as the EPA received more than 8 million comments supporting the Clean Power Plan. The Trump administration has ignored this massive public support, choosing instead to put the interests of polluters above the health of the people. With this Dirty Power Scam, Wheeler is letting polluters off the hook at the expense of our health. They can’t get away with this.
What makes me excited and keeps me organizing each day is knowing that more and more of our volunteers are sharing their stories and using their voices to hold our representatives accountable. Toxic pollution is making our kids sick and our air more dangerous to breathe. Latinos want to see the Clean Power Plan be made stronger, not repealed. We won’t sit on the sidelines anymore. Latinos are calling on you to say no to this dangerous Dirty Power Scam and support the lifesaving protections of the Clean Power Plan.
Thank you for your time.
My name is Sara Chieffo, and I’m here today as a concerned mom and as the Vice President of Government Affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. The League of Conservation Voters has more than 2 million members across the country, and our mission is to turn environmental values into national, state, and local priorities. We work to advance these goals in close partnership with the Conservation Voter Movement, a network of roughly 30 state partners, including the Illinois Environmental Council.
Thank you for this opportunity. I am here to speak in strong opposition to President Trump and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s effort to gut the lifesaving Clean Power Plan and to replace it with a backwards-looking and life-threatening proposal. While this administration has branded its proposal as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, it is more accurate to call it the Dirty Power Scam.
Put simply, the EPA’s draft proposal picks polluters’ profits over people’s health and a safe and stable climate for our children and future generations. It turns a blind eye to the climate change impacts that are already harming communities across our country – from record-breaking wildfires in the West, to droughts and heatwaves, to more intense hurricanes and historic flooding that have ravaged the Carolinas, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. Hurricane Maria was one of the deadliest storms on record and it is unacceptable that a year later Puerto Rico has still not gotten the support it needs to recover and rebuild.
This draft proposal also fails to do what’s best for the tens of millions of people in this country who suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments exacerbated by air pollution. It perpetuates the environmental and systemic racism in this country that has meant communities of color and lower income communities in this country are the ones bearing the brunt of our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
This proposal seeks to bury the Clean Power Plan, which set the first federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants – a major source of the pollution that exacerbates climate change – and encouraged a transition to a clean energy economy. The Clean Power Plan was the result of unprecedented public outreach that included 4 two-day public hearings and more than 8 million comments to the EPA in support of standards limiting carbon pollution from new and existing power plants – the most ever received by an agency. The Clean Power Plan also gave states the flexibility to craft their own plans to reduce emissions and transition to cleaner sources of energy.
This administration’s own analysis finds that the Clean Power Plan would have had significant climate and health benefits, including preventing as many as 4,500 premature deaths each year by 2030, preventing tens of thousands of asthma attacks, and avoiding hundreds of thousands of missed days at work and school.
This administration’s analysis admits that the draft plan we’re discussing today will lead to 1,400 deaths in 2030. This is simply unacceptable. The EPA can and must do better. The reality is that the scale of the climate crisis means the Clean Power Plan should be made stronger, not gutted.
As a young child, I can remember watching nervously as my twin sister had to be given breathing treatments at home or rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night due to another severe asthma attack. This summer, I was visiting family in Southern Oregon and the air was thick and choked with smoke from the wildfires burning across the region. The rising sun appearing as a glowing neon orb on the horizon, my young daughters complained their eyes were burning and they couldn’t breathe. It had been like this for weeks.
But despite all the overwhelming evidence and broad public support for the Clean Power Plan and climate action, Trump and Wheeler are instead focused on accommodating a few big polluters. And, this is part of a pattern that is all too familiar for this administration who, from day one, have systematically tried to block climate progress by taking the U.S. out of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, reversing course on common-sense clean car standards, and undoing methane pollution limits and more.
It is time the EPA got back to its core mission of protecting our health and our environment. That’s why I am proud to join others here today to support the lifesaving clean air protections provided by the Clean Power Plan and to say no to Trump and Wheeler’s scheme to bury them.
As we cap off Hispanic Heritage Month, Chispa is celebrating the many ways Latinx communities contribute to and help lead conservation and climate justice efforts across the country.
A Warm Welcome to Our New National Director!
Chispa is excited to welcome our new national director, Fernando Cazares!
Fernando was born in Michoacán, Mexico and migrated to South Central Los Angeles, CA in 1990. He studied Public Policy at Occidental College in Los Angeles and received a Masters Degree in Public Affairs and Urban and Regional Planning from Princeton University. He has spent 15 years working within local government, Congress, and electoral campaigns. In 2013, he built Latino grasstops support for the Clean Power Plan and, most recently, he provided technical assistance advancing climate resilience investments by municipal and nonprofit stakeholders. In his free time, Fernando likes to watch and play soccer (he even went to the 2018 World Cup in Russia!) and enjoys salsa/Latin dancing. Here is Fernando’s message: “I am excited to work with the Chispa family and channel our collective vision to grow engagement, leadership and power within communities of color, especially around environmental, racial and climate justice issues across the country.”
Celebrating La Madre Tierra During Latino Conservation Week
This summer, Chispa joined communities across the country in celebrating Latino Conservation Week (LCW) by enjoying the outdoors with friends and family. Protégete took a team of volunteers to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Chimayo Sanctuary, where Coloradans got to experience firsthand the landscapes and wildlife they fight so hard to protect. Chispa Nevada hosted a picnic at the Spring Mountain Ranch State Park with other community partners, while Chispa Maryland learned about clean up efforts as they sailed down the Anacostia River.
Taking the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños Fight to the National Governors Association
More children ride school buses every day than other form of public transit. That’s why more than 125 parents, children, activists, and supporters of the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign joined A People’s Convening: Rally for Clean Air, rallying and marching at the National Governors Association (NGA) summer meeting in Santa Fe. There, we called on governors to prioritize children’s health by investing Volkswagen settlement funds in electric school buses.
During the NGA events, Chispa families met with with Governor Jay Inslee of Washington. A New Mexico mother and Juntos organizer, Martha Favela, shared her family’s struggles with respiratory problems because of diesel pollution. Governor Inslee thanked Martha and Chispa for leading the fight for electric school buses and shared with us why he chose to invest Washington’s Volkswagen settlement funds in electric school buses: his three grandkids. We thank Governor Inslee for listening to our families and for supporting a #CleanRide4Kids.
Growing Our Team
Our family continues to grow! Chispa Connecticut graduated another six promotores at Waterbury City Hall, where State Representative Reyes welcomed our newest community organizers. Chispa Nevada also hosted a graduation for dozens of promotores in Las Vegas.
One of America’s best parks program is at risk. Chispa continuously pressed Congress to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) before it expired on September 30th. Chispa Arizona spent a day exploring the wonders of Grand Canyon National Park and Slide Rock State Park to draw attention to the many cherished parks projects LWCF has funded over the years. Chispa AZ also hosted a cafecito with Representative Raúl Grijalva and community members, discussing the critical need to #SaveLWCF. Meanwhile, Chispa Nevada hosted a community fiesta with more than 50 Nevadans to celebrate the ways the LWCF has helped the state’s Latinx community enjoys the outdoors.
Chispa Nevada, Chispa Arizona, Chispa Maryland, and Juntos: Our Air, Our Water also teamed up with the Hispanic Access Foundation to host screenings of “Land, Water y Comunidad,” a documentary highlighting the Latinx community’s connection to LWCF in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque.
Holding Senators Accountable to People, Not Polluters
In response to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s announcement that former Arizona U.S. Senator Jon Kyl will replace late Arizona Senator John McCain, our friends at Chispa Arizona said it best: “Governor Ducey has let down every Arizonan who wishes to breathe clean air and drink clean water.” During Kyl’s previous time in the Senate, he repeatedly put polluters over people, voting time and time again against regulations to reduce pollution and siding with his friends in the gas and oil industry. He even voted to continue subsidies for the oil industry! As he assumes his post, Chispa Arizona and its partners across the state will hold Kyl accountable to the clean air and clean water Arizonans demand.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Chispa spoke out against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the highest court on the land. Confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would put communities of color at risk on numerous fronts — immigrants’ rights, environmental justice, access to health care services, just to mention a few. Chispa Arizona Senior Organizer Teo Argueta spoke passionately about the need to reject any nominee that doesn’t serve our communities.
Chispa Joins GreenLatinos for Advocacy on the Hill
Chispa also participated in GreenLatinos Advocacy Day and Forum in Washington, D.C., meeting with several members of Congress and sharing why communities of color care about public lands, clean energy, and clean air and water for our children.
Protesting the Rollback of Clean Car Standards
Chispa Nevada mom Emily Zamora published an op-ed in Univision explaining how the Trump administration’s rollback of clean car standards will hurt children like her son William, who suffers from asthma. Chispa supporters throughout the country joined rallies and press conferences criticizing the Trump administration’s decision, which will result in increased air pollution and cause corresponding lung and heart diseases.
In Solidarity With the People’s Climate Movement
Communities across the country joined the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice events this past September, and Chispa participated by rallying, planting community gardens, hosting art and healing exhibitions, and marching for environmental and worker justice. Chispa Connecticut remind us that during this time, we can’t forget the people of Puerto Rico, who continue to suffer the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria.
Our Chispa programs throughout the country were there, demanding clean air, clean water, and healthy futures for low-income and communities of color whose lives, on a daily basis, are deeply affected by environmental, social and economic injustices.
Take a look at some of the events we participated in:
In Phoenix, nearly 100 Arizonans gathered to plant seeds in a community garden. Chispa Arizona and their partners discussed how workers’ rights, migrant rights, climate justice and issues of equity are connected, linking the struggles of immigrant and labor communities in a collective fight for a healthier, better future.
Meanwhile, Chispa Connecticut knocked on “Thousands Doors for Justice,” with volunteers joining a statewide effort to register voters and share updates from the Clean Energy for All campaign. Chispa Connecticut also participated in a rally in New Haven, calling for justice and aid for Puerto Ricans, who are still suffering the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. Communities across Connecticut are calling on local leaders to commit to building a 100 percent clean, renewable energy world that puts people and justice before profits. There was even a 60-foot long “fossil fuel dragon” breathing fire into the movement!
In Las Vegas, Chispa Nevada partnered with community organizations to host an art walk featuring local artists’ works that focused on the climate and health issues Nevadans face and how together, people can fight for a safe and habitable planet for families and future generations. The art walk provided a space for communities to begin to heal from the injustices they have endured, so that they can continue moving forward.
In Denver, Colorado’s Protegete joined a dozen community partners to host a rally and series of workshops about embarking on a just and equitable transition to 100 percent renewable energy across the state. The events lifted the voices of workers and communities of color most impacted by climate change and pollution. Climate Nexus produced this great video on the events — check it out:
Meanwhile in Albuquerque, Juntos: Our Air, Our Water specifically addressed the need to advance the climate, jobs and justice movement to the next phase: meaningful climate action that is committed to obtaining and preserving racial and economic justice for all, especially workers, indigenous peoples, frontline communities and immigrant communities who are working to transition from the fossil fuel industry to a clean energy future.
“New York’s plan to use Volkswagen settlement funds to invest in electric vehicles demonstrates that state governments are listening to the thousands of parents, youths, and advocates who have called for clean, zero-emission transportation options that won’t pollute the air our children breathe. We welcome this ambitious commitment to electric school buses and call on governors across the country to follow New York’s example in putting our kids first.
“This plan’s promise to reduce pollution in low income and communities of color also responds to the repeated demand from Chispa and our partners at the local, state, and national level, like the New York League of Conservation Voters, to focus funding on where students and families are most at risk of breathing dirty air and disproportionately carry the burden of pollution.
“We congratulate the New York League of Conservation Voters on their hard work and success organizing with thousands of New Yorkers through the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, and we look forward to their continued work with Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation to prioritize children’s health by converting dirty diesel-fueled school buses into clean, zero-emission electric school buses first.”
As the mother of one of the 6 million children across the country who suffer from asthma attacks, I was devastated to learn that the Trump administration is moving forward with its plan to throw America’s clean car standards in reverse. Rolling back these standards would pollute our air, force families to spend billions more dollars on gas, and could even put lives at risk.
My son William was just recently diagnosed with asthma, following his first asthma attack. He’s three years old. William is an energetic toddler, full of life, and seeing him struggle to breathe was heart-wrenching. Thinking that our family might have to see him suffer again breaks my heart.
By rolling back federal clean car standards, the Trump administration is putting the wishes of auto lobbyists over people — and over children like my son. Not only will these rollbacks increase the pollution in our air, but they will also undercut our nation’s response to climate change. In the United States, the transportation sector recently became the largest source of the carbon pollution fueling climate change. Undoing these standards will expose millions of Americans to more climate-changing carbon pollution and jeopardize our health.
Knowing the pollution that comes from diesel vehicles, my family and I joined Chispa Nevada’s Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign to transition diesel school buses into electric school buses that won’t pollute the air our son breathes. That’s why it’s important to us that leaders in our states, and in Washington, D.C., not only commit to making our buses cleaner, but also oppose President Trump’s plan to gut vital standards that make our cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs pollute less.
Rolling back the clean car standards will lead to more tailpipe pollution, which has been linked to many health problems, including the asthma my son suffers from. But it’s not limited to asthma: William and other children like him are at elevated risk of developing heart and lung problems from breathing in dirty air. And Latino families like mine will pay the steepest price.
Latinos and other communities of color are already more likely to live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Compared to non-Hispanic white children, Latino children are twice as likely to die from asthma. For African American children, it’s even worse. They’re 10 times more likely to die from asthma. Protecting federal clean car standards means protecting the health of our children and the future of our communities.
In addition to the negative health impacts, rolling back clean car standards will mean that families like mine across my home state of Nevada — and our country — will have to spend more at the gas pump. The current standards could save consumers as much as $5,700 per car and $8,200 per truck over the lifetime of their vehicle. This is money we could spend on groceries, rent, medical bills, or child care. Every dollar we can save helps our family.
Instead of protecting these money-saving standards that are working to make our communities healthier, the Trump administration is working to line the pockets of their allies in the oil and gas industry. Trump’s reckless plan means that the most vulnerable among us will be hurt first and worst by dirty air, toxic water, and the increasing impacts of climate change.
The resignation of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt in July was a step in the right direction. Now, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler must commit to upholding the EPA’s mission to protect our health and environment. The EPA deserves a clean start, and that starts with Acting Administrator Wheeler respecting our environmental laws, making decisions guided by science, and putting our children’s lives ahead of special interests.
It makes no sense to deny our families cleaner air, vehicle cost savings, and healthier lives. My son William deserves a bright, healthy future, as does every child in America. It’s time that the Trump administration puts us first by protecting us from vehicle pollution.
Last month, more than 125 parents, children, activists, and supporters of the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign rallied and marched at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Santa Fe, calling on governors to prioritize children’s health by investing Volkswagen settlement funds in electric school buses.
This was a major milestone for our efforts to reduce air pollution by electrifying school buses. Our partners in Juntos: Our Air, Our Water; Conservation Voters of New Mexico; Chispa Arizona; Chispa Nevada; and Protegete came together with more than a dozen other national organizations to let governors know we must act now to help our children breathe clean air. We are seeing lawmakers across the country take notice, and we’ll keep fighting to make clean buses a reality for our families.
Herlinda Calderon, Mother Organizer and Promotora with Chispa AZ
“The saddest thing is that when I realized that dirty school buses were what were worsening my daughter’s asthma, worsening her breathing problems, people would come and ask me what people were doing to help us. No one was helping us, not until we started raising our voice.
Arizona’s Governor Ducey was able to put $38 million out of $57 million available towards retrofitting school buses. I want to tell Governor Ducey today that we’re not satisfied with that, we need more. Many more children deserve to lead healthy lives, and we need incentives for school districts to go electric. We need to completely eliminate diesel school buses from Maricopa County, from Arizona, from our communities.”
Herlinda has a daughter with asthma.
Martha Favela, Mother Organizer with Juntos: Our Air, Our Water
“I’d rather drive my three daughters to three different schools each morning than to have them ride in a diesel school bus. Even just dropping them off at school, we pass the buses idling and breathe in the diesel fumes. Children go to school to learn, not to get sick from pollution. I ask Gov. Martinez to use funds from the Volkswagen settlement to invest in electric school buses, because our families deserve to breathe clean air.”
Martha’s second daughter suffers from severe breathing problems, as does her husband, who drives diesel trucks for a living. Both have chest pains and cough through the night. Learning that other families face similar problems drove Martha to join Juntos as a volunteer and later an organizer.
Noe Orgaz, Protegete Organizer
“Our children are our most valuable asset, but pollutants like dirty diesel prevent them from developing a strong respiratory system. Children with asthma do not know why it is hard to breathe, and they should not have to worry about it. It is our responsibility to protect them.
Governors, you have the authority to ensure school districts acquire Electric School Buses that will improve our air quality. This is your opportunity to leave behind a legacy of promoting public health and protecting our children.”
Noe lives in Denver, CO with his daughter, who has been told by doctors she is at risk for developing asthma.
Alexa Aispuro, Chispa NV Promotora
“Latino communities are deeply affected by air pollution, more often living near sources of pollution and breathing unhealthy levels of dirty air. We are more likely to suffer from illnesses caused by our environment because of this. If we want this to change, we have to raise our voice and speak up. That is why I am here today to support the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, so other kids like my friend Robert can access breathable air. I urge Governor Sandoval and governors across the nation to support this campaign and invest in electric school buses.”
Alexa’s best friend Robert has suffered from asthma for years, often missing school for doctor’s appointments because of his illness. He has riden diesel buses to and from school for years.
Celerah Hewes, Mom’s Clean Air Force New Mexico
“Today I speak on behalf of over one million parents who have joined Moms Clean Air Force, because protecting our kids from dangerous air pollution is essential to their future.
We have a nationally-embarrassing, Delaware-sized cloud of methane pollution hovering over northwestern New Mexico. However, over the last eight years, our state has been running in the wrong direction — weakening oil and gas air quality requirements at a time that we need stronger standards. New Mexicans deserve better. Our children deserve better. All Americans deserve reasonable clean air protections at the state and federal level that reduce pollution, and we can start with clean buses.
We demand our elected officials consider our climate and our children.”
Celerah is a mom in Albuquerque who organizes with Moms Clean Air Force.
Johana Vicente, a community organizer for Chispa Maryland, spoke at a Clean Cars Press Conference about the impacts of transportation pollution on her community. Vicente was joined by Maryland attorney general Brian Frosh, and spokespeople from the Maryland Environmental Health Network, the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, and the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, with each group providing their own perspective on the importance of implementing Clean Car Standards.
As an organizer for Chispa Maryland, Vicente works closely with Latino families and leaders to ensure that their collective voice is powerful in protecting their communities and the environment. In many cases, that means fighting for important policies such as Clean Car Standards. As Vicente mentioned in her remarks, the current clean car standards are critical to reducing the pollution in our communities.
“Curbing pollution could not be more important in our fight against climate change. Transportation is the leading contributor to climate-disrupting pollution and as such we need policies like the Clean Car Standards to continue reducing pollution from the transportation sector.”
Although air pollution stemming from our transportation represents a serious public health concern for millions of people in this country, our nation is one in which cars are ubiquitous and often a crucial mode of transportation. Given our country’s reliance on cars, the administration’s ploy to reduce fuel efficiency standards, which are already underway and attainable, means ever-more unnecessary pollution in our air and, with rising gas prices, more strain on peoples’ pocket books.
In fact, 46.9 million people will travel at least 50 miles over this July 4th holiday. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the number of travelers has been steadily rising for the last five years and would represent the highest travel volume in the 18-year history of AAA tracking data. Nevertheless, the administration still plans to roll back the money-saving clean car standards that make driving more affordable and our air healthier.
And, like so many other environmental issues, low-income communities and communities of color bear an out sized burden of this air pollution.
“Working with Latino communities in Prince George’s County, I have seen the effects that air pollution has on our families and our communities. These are families who live in some of the most polluted areas of our state, surrounded by high trafficked areas as well as other sources of pollution.”
Vicente went on to share the stories of three people from Prince George’s County who are affected daily by transportation pollution.
“Tyrese Robinson is a concerned mother from Mount Rainier who has to deal with her daughter, Shawna Marie’s severe asthma attacks on a regular basis. This June, Shawna participated on her very first 5K as a proud member of her school’s Girls on the Run Program and as Tyrese shared, her daughter’s ‘major concern was not the strength of her legs but the strength of her lungs.’
Being undocumented, a student from a local high school has to wonder every single school day about whether riding dirty public transportation will trigger her asthma attacks. Having no access to health insurance, pollution does not only affect her health, but it also affects the economy of her entire family.
As concerned parents at their school, Candida and Edith are concerned about students missing school days due to respiratory conditions. As their principal shared, asthma is one of the most common causes of student absences in their school. Candida and Edith are concerned about students’ academic performance when they miss so many school days.”
And those are just a few of the stories. The impacts of air pollution extend far beyond Maryland as millions of people in the United States struggle with the very real consequences of dirty air.
“The burdens of air pollution are real and very common, and we need policies that will protect the health and well-being of communities. Tearing down successful and achievable climate change and air pollution protections endangers communities especially low-income communities and communities of color. We strongly oppose this administration’s attempts to roll back the Clean Car Standards. We need policies that continue to reduce air pollution and combat climate change. We do not want or need to go backwards.”
Chispa is an organizing program of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). We are dedicated to community organizing to build the capacity of communities of color to influence policy makers and pressure polluters to protect communities’ rights to clean air and water, healthy neighborhoods, and a safe climate for generations to come.
We focus on fighting the effects of climate change with and on behalf of the low-income and communities of color who are disproportionately affected by pollution. Last year, Chispa launched the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, which is calling on elected leaders to invest in electric school buses, and will, in turn, protect our children from breathing dangerous diesel toxins. We’re also standing with immigrant and climate refugee communities, fighting to advance clean energy measures at the state and local levels, and holding lawmakers accountable so the needs and priorities of communities of color are front and center when policy decisions are made.
Here are some of the highlights of these efforts from the last couple months:
We are winning and protecting children
The Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign is gathering speed, as Chispa organizers continue to grow support among families, elected officials, government agencies, public health institutions, community organizations, and other local groups in each city and state.
After hosting our first webinar in late winter, state programs achieved several local victories this spring. Chispa Maryland worked with Councilmember Deni Taveras to pass a resolution at the Prince George’s County Council that calls on Governor Hogan to invest in electric school buses. Earlier this year, a group of 27 municipalities in the county passed a similar resolution. Prince George’s County is keeping up the pressure, and with one of the largest school districts in Maryland, it can — and will — lead the state’s transformation to an electric school bus fleet.
The New York League of Conservation Voters’ Adriana Espinoza toured electric school buses and filmed an informative video on the benefits of switching to clean, quiet, and safer zero-emission buses. Check out the video here.
New Mexico’s State Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero authored an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, calling on Governor Martinez to invest in electric school buses that won’t pollute the air our children breathe each day.
Following the release of the American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air report, which found that millions more people in this country are breathing dangerous levels of air pollution, Chispa programs are gearing up to host Asthma Summits to highlight the health risks of diesel and other types of fossil fuel pollution. Juntos in New Mexico has already hosted an Asthma Stakeholder Meeting with dozens of new and old allies. After the meeting, several new community groups pledged their support for the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, and the New Mexico Department of Health has also committed to hosting more public events to learn about the campaign from local families.
Supporting Climate Refugees and Immigrants
The fight for environmental solutions and racial justice are inextricably linked. We stand with our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters who deserve action from elected officials.
In Connecticut, Chispa Volunteer Da’kquie and Promotor Taylor Robertson secured co-sponsorships from two state representatives on a bill that provides funds for hurricane victims from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Chispa Connecticut volunteers also spoke at a rally for Puerto Rican families and called on state legislatures to match federal aid dollars to help climate refugees — who have been displaced and now reside in Connecticut — find jobs and provide for their families while their island home is rebuilt.
In Colorado, Protegete and Conservation Colorado joined dozens of allied community organizations in testifying against a bill that would have endangered public safety and put immigrant communities at risk of profiling and discriminatory policing practices.
Amplifying the Voices and Power of Grassroots Leaders of Color
Across the country, our promotores, youth activists, and grassroots activists are leading the way towards healthier, safer futures.
In early March, Chispa Arizona held a community retreat with 18 statewide leaders to discuss environmental justice, our common struggles, and the path forward. Leaders of color from state and regional movements shared lessons from their organizing work and helped our promotores listen to and learn from one another, getting ready to tackle the next organizing challenge.
Several of our team members were in the national spotlight this spring. Wildaliz Bermudez, Director for Chispa Connecticut, joined U.S. Congresswoman Barragán and other national Latina leaders for a telephone town hall with UnidosUS Action Fund. Rudy Zamora, state director for Chispa Nevada, was ranked one of this year’s top “50 Fixers” by Grist, a environmental publication that recognizes leaders working towards a sustainable planet.
The Juntos’ team graduated a new class of 11 promotores, including 5 youth promotores who plan to lead the charge for the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign in New Mexico. These promotores help recruit, train, and retain other local volunteers, from mothers to students.
Connecting Local Communities to their State Governments
Connecticut hosted its Youth Climate Action Day at the state Legislature in mid-April. Chispa Connecticut and the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters hosted six young people who spoke with their legislators about the importance of reducing greenhouse gases and fossil fuel pollution, increasing clean energy use and access to community solar gardens, and teaching climate science in public schools.
In mid April, Chispa Maryland co-hosted a candidate forum with the Langley Park Civic Association so local families could meet candidates and ask about their plans to protect the environment and invest in clean modes of transportation, like electric school buses for children. More than 65 community members and 15 candidates attended the forum.
**Staffing News: National Director of Chispa Ernesto Vargas recently accepted an exciting new position at Friends of the Earth, an organization that LCV works with regularly. While we will certainly miss him and the great talent he’s brought to Chispa, we’re excited to see his next big accomplishments.