Welcome to La Prensa’s new column about San Antonio, the environment and you.

My name is DeeDee Belmares and I’m Public Citizen’s climate justice organizer in San Antonio. Public Citizen is a Washington-based non-profit organization whose mission is to protect Americans from corporate and government abuses. In San Antonio, it’s my job to raise awareness of environmental threats and to push decision-makers to protect all neighborhoods in town.

I was born and raised in San Antonio. I grew up on the south side in a working class family. Conservation of natural resources and protecting the planet came naturally to our family, as my father insisted that we not waste water or electricity, and that we reuse as many household items as possible. I think my family was like many throughout San Antonio – common-sense, resourceful and protective of each other. In fact, protecting our children and families is the cornerstone of Latino life.

Unfortunately, it seems it’s getting more difficult to keep our families safe from environmental degradation. We hear on the news of so many different threats facing our communities. One of the most urgent is climate change and its dramatic impact on the world we live in.  We see raging wildfires in California and Australia, massive flooding in the Midwest and devastating droughts and hurricanes right here in Texas.

In Texas, Latinos bear a disproportionate burden of environmental threats because we often live closer to highways and breathe in the tailpipe pollution of thousands of vehicles every day. Our homes and schools are located dangerously near coal plants, contaminated sites and other industrial facilities that release toxic air pollution and contribute to the warming of the planet. All of these are affecting the air we breathe and the water we drink and moving us further into a climate crisis.  The toxic air pollution is impacting our children and families’ health According to a 2017 survey from Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (www.climatecommunication.yale.edu), three out of four American Latinos are “worried” about climate change, and two out of three of us are “very worried” about it. And we’re paying closer attention than the general population in part because we’re being disproportionately affected.

“Latinos are more engaged with the issue of global warming than are non-Latinos,” the Yale study found. “Latinos are more convinced global warming is happening and human-caused, more worried about it, perceive greater risks, are more supportive of climate change policies, and are more willing to get involved politically.”

That’s where you come in. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope to use this space to inform you about our most pressing environmental challenges and motivate you to action. I hope you’ll let me know about environmental challenges and dangers you see in your communities, and together, we can work to protect the health and well-being of all San Antonians.

To get involved please visit https://www.citizen.org/

The COVID-19 pandemic is demanding the attention of all San Antonians as we try to protect ourselves and our families from this devastating threat. However, we must not let this crisis distract us from another global menace – the impact of air pollution on our health and environment.

A number of factors, such as transportation and industrial facilities, contribute to air pollution in San Antonio. But by far one of the largest producers of carbon pollution in our city is CPS Energy and its Spruce Coal Plants on the southside of town. These plants contribute fifty percent of the carbon pollution in San Antonio.

Every year, these hazardous coal power plants emit nearly 8 million metric tons of toxic pollution into the air that we breathe. Coal plant emissions cause a range of illnesses like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. For our families in San Antonio, this is especially important because state health data shows that more of our kids are sent to the hospital or emergency room because of asthma attacks than in other large Texas cities. It also hits us in our pocketbooks. In Bexar County, asthma cost residents almost $37.3 million in hospital fees in 2017, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to pollute the air we breathe to generate power for our homes. Texas leads the nation in wind generated energy. Solar power is steadily growing as well. In fact, Texas now ranks first in the nation for wind energy production and fourth in solar power generation. Our state is on course to build twenty-five percent of the new industrial-scale solar capacity being installed across the US this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wind and solar, neither of which spew harmful emissions into the air, are creating jobs and saving lives. Yet CPS Energy wants to continue to burn dirty coal.

These toxic coal emissions contribute to climate change too. We are already seeing the effects of climate change with rising sea levels and extreme weather events like hurricanes. Scientists have warned us that if we don’t drastically reduce pollution from coal plants and other sources, climate change will worsen. That means higher temperatures and more droughts and hurricanes. This can mean more heat stress and an increase in waterborne diseases. We are in the middle of a global health pandemic that is causing massive economic loss. Our city – already starkly divided between the haves and have-nots – cannot afford any other disasters caused by climate change.

The nation’s 56 million Latinos are especially vulnerable to the health threats posed by climate change because of where they live and work, and a lack of access to health care, according to a report released this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Latinos in San Antonio and elsewhere stand to benefit greatly from concerted efforts to reduce carbon pollution, which fuels global warming, according to “NuestroFuturo: Climate Change and U.S. Latinos.”

CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned utility, must explore all energy options for San Antonio to protect our most vulnerable, such as our children, working class families and elderly, from the effects of coal’s toxic pollution. As customers, we must demand that CPS Energy protect our health from harmful toxic pollution and quickly phase out the coal burning power plants damaging out health and environment. This will be all the more important as our nation works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.