‘A matter of life and death.’ New poll shows concern about environment among Latino voters

By Hannah Grover | New Mexico Political Report
February 23, 2022

The majority of Latino voters in the western United States are concerned about climate change, access to public lands and other environment-related topics, according to the 12th annual Conservation in the West Poll.

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project released the results of the poll last week and a press conference webinar on Tuesday focused on how Latino voters perceive a variety of topics related to the environment.

As part of the poll, researchers conducted 3,440 interviews between Jan. 5 and Jan. 23 both by phone and using the internet. The people interviewed live in eight western states and 434 of the participants were New Mexicans.

The poll showed overwhelming support for measures to protect the environment and increase access to public lands across racial groups. It also found an increasingly “dim view” of nature’s future when looking back over the 12 years of polling data. Last year, 36 percent of respondents said they were hopeful about the future of nature. This year, that number reduced to 28 percent.

Some of the areas that voters said they were concerned about include inadequate water supplies, poorly planned growth and development, water contamination, loss of family agriculture, habitat loss, loss of natural areas, climate change, air pollution and the impacts of oil and natural gas extraction.

According to the poll results, 76 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of independent voters and 96 percent of Democrats said candidates’ positions on conservation issues will be an important factor in determining their support for that candidate.

“We are seeing a perfect storm of threats that are driving higher levels of concern than ever before for the state of our lands and water in the Mountain West,” Katrina Miller-Stevens, Director of the State of the Rockies Project and an associate professor at Colorado College, said in a press release. “Not surprisingly, most voters are aligning behind policies that would help mitigate threats by conserving and protecting more outdoor spaces.”

While the poll included voters of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, Tuesday’s webinar, which was hosted by the Hispanic Access Foundation, focused on how Latino voters responded to the poll.

“The Latinos have a clear vision for moving forward in protecting the environment because the health, the houses and the work of the community is in danger,” Shawna Edberg, the director of conservation programs of Hispanic Access Foundation, said in Spanish during the webinar.

Edberg then highlighted statistics about how Latino communities are impacted by pollution and climate change. She said Latino children are more likely to die from asthma than white children.

According to information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hispanic children are twice as likely to be hospitalized with asthma than white children and, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Hispanic children are 40 percent more likely to die of asthma compared to non-Hispanic white children.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that, when we talk about air pollution, we are talking about a matter of life and death for the Latino communities,” Edberg said in Spanish, adding that it is now the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted Latino communities more than other groups.

Four out of five Latino voters want to see a transition away from fossil fuels in favor of clean energy sources such as solar and wind, Edberg said.

The poll also showed support for stronger regulations when it comes to oil and gas extraction on public lands and requiring that extractive industries clean up the well sites and other infrastructure once it is no longer being used.

Edberg also highlighted that the majority of Latinos in the poll—almost 90 percent of those surveyed—support the America the Beautiful initiative, which aims to conserve 30 percent of the lands and waters by 2030. Edberg further pointed to results showing support from the Latino respondents for new designations to protect lands and waters, such as national parks. She said they were especially interested in increasing access to public lands for communities that have historically had less access, such as communities of color.

Some of the New Mexico initiatives mentioned during the webinar include the proposed Wild and Scenic River designation for the Gila River and designating a national conservation area in the Caja del Rio Plateau, which would increase protections for the grasslands and canyons along the Santa Fe River and other waterways that flow into the Rio Grande.

The webinar also included a pre-recorded video from U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona who serves as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.

Grijalva said in Spanish that Black and Latino communities are more likely to be exposed to pollution. He said communities of color are more likely to live close to contaminated sites.

Grijalva said he has introduced legislation known as the Environmental Justice for All Act. This piece of legislation, which is intended to increase protection for communities impacted by pollution and other environmental safety hazards, had its first hearing since 2020 earlier this month. During that Committee on Natural Resources hearing, Grijalva said the bill is based on a simple premise—that all people have the right to clean air, clean water and an environment that enriches their lives. He said the polluting industries have intentionally targeted communities of color and low-income communities.

During the recorded video played during the webinar, Grijalva said in Spanish that the federal government can and should work to achieve environmental justice for all communities.

The webinar ended with a panel discussion that included former Las Cruces city councilor Gabe Vasquez, the strategy and partnerships director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO), Juan Pérez Sáez, the executive director of Environmental Learning for Kids, and Linda Sosa, an advisory member of the group Por La Creación.

The questions included how politicians can, in the upcoming months, address the decreasing optimism about the future of clean air and water.

“The theme of hope has a lot to do with the conditions that we live in,” Pérez Sáez said in Spanish.

Pérez Sáez said in Spanish that if the Latino community does not see change or a series of actions that aligns with their priorities, it impacts their attitude about whether that change is possible.

This article originally appeared in the New Mexico Political Report.