Activists push for environmental justice as climate issues hit communities disproportionately

7 March 2023

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Gerardo Velásquez said he is “one of the lucky ones.”

He worked in solar panel installation in Las Vegas during the summer and survived a dehydration episode. Now a leader with the progressive advocacy nonprofit Make the Road Nevada, he shared the account Monday afternoon at a press conference in front of the Legislative Building. 

“Many folks don’t end up surviving these kinds of high temperatures that sometimes reach as high as 127 degrees,” Velásquez said in Spanish. “I am thankful that I’m alive.”

His comments came as part of the Legislature’s first-ever Environmental Justice Day, which gave space for environmental advocacy organizations to lobby for legislation to address the way climate change, extreme heat and air and water pollution disproportionately affect certain communities.

The “Outdoor Worker Protection Bill,” still a bill draft request (BDR 682) that has not been formally introduced, would add health protections for outdoor workers in extreme heat, including ensuring shade, water, education and training is provided.

Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) said the environment is a “multifaceted and intersectional” issue, and its effects can be seen in the economy, health and education quality.

“As an educator, I saw firsthand the challenges posed by environmental racism in seeing the challenges my students face in the classroom,” Torres said during the press conference. “It’s clear that continued inaction on environmental issues bears repeating the same economic and social inequities our community has faced for decades. And it’s time that in this session, we confront those issues head on.”

Legislators and activists also touted the “Green Amendment” (AJR3), which would amend the Nevada Constitution to guarantee Nevadan’s clean air, clean water and healthy soils and ecosystems. It’s scheduled for a Thursday hearing.

The resolution would also mandate that the state serve as the “trustee” of Nevada’s natural resources, with directions to “conserve, protect and maintain these resources for the benefit of all people.”

“I used to think that we were on the precipice of an environmental catastrophe. And over the last five years, it’s very apparent that we are in the middle of an environmental catastrophe,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno), who sponsored the Green Amendment. “It is imperative that we constitutionalize the protections for people to live in spaces in this state … You can’t live your best life when you’re triaging asthma.”

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.

The post Activists push for environmental justice as climate issues hit communities disproportionately appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

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