Congressional Hispanic Caucus Public Policy Conference on September 12-13
by Jose Bravo
Organization: Just Transition Alliance
The Environmental Justice and Health Alliance on Chemical Policy (EJHA) had eight members attend the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Public Policy Conference on September 12-13 in Washington DC. Sending members from key states in the nation, the EJHA sent Jose T. Bravo and Martha Dina Arguello from California, Richard Moore from New Mexico, Juan Parras and Jill Johnston from Texas, Cecil Corbin-Mark from New York, Mark Mitchell from Connecticut, and Michele Roberts from Washington DC. During the two days of the conference, the members from the EJHA met with a number of Congress members in order to discuss TSCA reform and the link that toxic chemicals have on communities, health and other factors. Our EJHA members met with: Congressman Ruben Hinojosa a Democrat from the 15th district of Texas, Congressman Charlie Gonzalez a Democrat from the 20th district of Texas, Congressman Silvestre Reyes a Democrat from the 16th district of Texas, Representative Bobby Rush a Democrat from the 1st district of Illinois, Congressman Luis Gutierrez a Democrat from the 4th district of Illinois, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan a Democrat from the 3rd district of New Mexico, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano a Democrat from the 38th district of California, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard a Democrat from the 34th district of California, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez a democrat from the 12th district of New York, and Congressman Jose Serrano a democrat from the 16th district of New York.
The members of the EJHA, taking part in the conference and the different breakout sessions, felt that this was a very productive project that allowed them to make the link between chemicals and Latino issues that would have not been discussed at the conference by making strategic comments and moving the conversations in needed direction. Attending the Mental Health Summit lead by Grace Napolitano, the EJHA members made it a priority to assess the clinical health of people with mental disorders and mental health issues. In addition, during the public comment period of the Mental Health Summit, our members talked about the high incidences of chemicals in environmental justice communities, and the link of chemicals such as lead and neurotoxins that are prevalent in our communities to mental health concerns. Jose Bravo and the other members were responded to very kindly by the panel at the summit, and they were able to ask Grace Napolitano to support TSCA reform as a way to address the problems of chemicals in our environment that lead to mental health issues. Also, our members had the opportunity to give the members of Congress material such as the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) platform. With numerous breakout sessions during the conference, our members made sure to attend the Health and Nutrition Summit where they were able to talk about the lack of access to healthy foods, and Juan Parras had the opportunity to depict the conditions that are affecting Houston, Texas and contributing to an unhealthy environment due to the having chemical companies and refineries located directly across from community parks, homes, and schools. Also, Juan Parras was able to explain and describe the implications that this has to cancer rates and community health in general. Participating in the Energy Innovation and Green Economy Summit, Richard Moore spoke about the factors that the green economy must include in order to move away from the most toxic chemicals and the need to move toward regional economies that have community gardens and other sustainable businesses that pose no threat to human health and the environment.
The 10 Congress members that were approached by the EJHA received our members well and with positive feedback and commits to having broader discussions around TSCA reform. Ultimately, Congress members Luis Gutierrez, Nydia Velazquez, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Jose Serrano committed their support for TSCA reform.
Our team, all and all, thought this was an excellent trip and a good learning experience since this was the first time that the majority of our team participated with the CHC, and we think that this truly helped move the conversation on toxic chemicals and did so by linking toxic chemicals and TSCA reform to all of the events that they attended. If our members had not attended the conference, then there would not have been discussions that were focused upon chemicals and their link to health. Moving beyond the conference, our members will make sure to follow up with the 10 members of Congress, especially with Charlie Gonzalez and the chief of staff for Nydia Velazquez. In order to improve on future events with the CHC, we feel that we should saturate the event with literature and have adequate media support. In addition, our members talked about the possibility of scheduling a presentation at one of the breakout sessions with other panelist for next year’s public policy conference.