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Latino voters and workers courted: jobs vs. environmental protection

By James Mejia

2012 was a historic year. For the first time in the history of our country, Latinos accounted for over 10 percent of the national vote. The Pew Research Center reports that Latinos comprised 14 percent of Colorado’s voters in the last presidential election, and projects that percentage to increase every year.

It should come as no surprise under this new electoral reality, that Latino voters are at the center of a controversy that will affect our state’s economic and environmental policy direction for the next several decades – hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is designed to inject water and chemicals underground to create small fractures and release natural gas and oil deposits. While some fracking methods have been used for decades, there is an opportunity for increased fracking with technological advances.

For the Latino community, the fracking conversation poses difficult choices; how does our community balance our natural tendency toward protecting the environment with the community need for jobs and economic security? Can both be accomplished? Lobbyists for both sides of the issue know the narrative – oil and gas advocates spread the message of high paying jobs in the industry and environmental organizations send the message of protecting the environment for our families. You can find these messages around Denver and interestingly, on billboards in predominantly Latino neighborhoods.

When the issue of fracking was put before voters last year, Broomfield, Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins passed five-year moratoriums or bans on fracking. According to the U.S. Census, the Latino population in each of those jurisdictions is substantial – 12 percent, 13.5 percent, 18.2 percent, and 10.1 percent respectively. In short, Latino voters played a significant role in those elections.

When the website of Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development is available in English and Spanish and when oil and gas associations partner with influential and long-standing Latino non-profits, you get the idea that oil and gas industry professionals know what is at stake. I hope the Latino community realizes all that is at stake as well – we can become the fracking work force of tomorrow or strong environmental advocates, but can we be both?

With our growing electoral influence comes the growing responsibility to actively participate in a broad range of policy issues. Fracking is the latest but certainly won’t be the last. It will take subject matter expertise from within the Latino community to help educate our professionals and organizations and advocate for our involvement and influence.

It is only because of our growing population, ability to work hard, and voting participation that we are being included in the conversation about fracking. Politicians and policy makers must continue their courtship of the Latino community. Is our community ready to take on this conversation?





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