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Guest Voz: NM Rep. Lujan aims to engage young Latinos in clean energy issue

Guest Voz: NM Rep. Lujan aims to engage young Latinos in clean energy issue

By Rep. Ben Ray Lujan

New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján is a strong advocate for clean energy and chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Green Economy and Renewable Energy. Hailing from the Land of Enchantment, Rep. Luján has devoted his professional and personal life to promoting a clean energy economy.


Prior to his election to Congress, Rep. Luján served as the chairman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. As a commissioner, he worked with his colleagues to increase renewable energy production by New Mexico utilities and to diversify utilities' renewable portfolios to include solar energy.

However, Rep. Luján sees the key to successfully creating a clean energy future is to work with young people, especially young Latinos. One way to reach this young demographic is partnering with role models relevant to them.

Recently, Rep. Luján met with representatives from the the Mexican rock group Maná, who has been very active in promoting environmental protection and clean energy practices. The group created the Selva Negra Foundation to work towards those precise goals.

(L-R) Alex González of Maná, Augusto Chacón (Executive Director of La Selva Negra), and Mari Carmen Casares (Deputy Director of La Selva Negra) discuss issues surrounding a clean energy economy with New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján.

As he shares in his following post with Latina Lista readers, Rep. Luján, who was recently named one of the "100 Most Influential Hispanics" by Hispanic Business Magazine, is on a mission to educate everyone about the importance of a clean energy economy. Yet, he is also on a secondary mission -- to show the Latino community why it's in their best interest to care about working towards a clean energy future.


Our country is facing tough economic times and it is no secret that communities of color are often impacted first and often impacted the hardest.

Just last month, unemployment among Latinos rose to 13 percent. But there is good news. Despite the economic downturn, the clean technology sector continues to prosper and green job opportunity continues to increase.

Venture capital investments in the clean energy sector rose to more than $4 billion in 2008, a 54 percent increase from 2007 levels. An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that if utilities generated an average of 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, 185,000 new jobs would be created by 2020.

Why are these statistics so important to the Hispanic community?

Because of this statistic -- while Hispanics make up over 14.8 percent of the population, we only comprise about 11 percent of our nation's four-year college graduates and 3 percent of our nation's scientists and engineers. With the Hispanic community growing at three times the rate of the total population, our country and our community cannot afford to have a green divide.
It is particularly important to involve young Latinos. Nearly a third of Latino adult citizens are under age 30, with more than half under age 40. Our youth are interested, but we need to engage them in the issues and make them part of the process of change.

Our young people are key to changing the way we create and use energy -- and they will play a critical role in the clean energy economy for years to come. We must invest in educating and training them for future opportunities.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, I have worked with an organization called Youthworks, which is dedicated to training, finding work, and educating Hispanic youth in the community.

One of Youthworks' programs focuses on green jobs skills training for careers in fields such as green building construction, energy efficiency and weatherization, sustainability, conservation and river restoration. The program participants are largely Latino.

I had the pleasure of working with Youthworks this past spring when I joined them in breaking ground on a completely green Habitat for Humanity home.

Such local movements, and all efforts to involve Latinos in the growing clean energy economy, need to be fought for in Washington. That is one of my goals as the Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' (CHC) Green Economy and Renewable Energy Task Force.

We need to ensure that we are training and educating our communities, equipping them with the job skills necessary to become part of a robust clean energy workforce.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES), which recently passed the House of Representatives, presents an opportunity for Latino students and the Latino workforce.

Our Task Force and my CHC colleagues worked to ensure that this legislation included job training and education initiatives that directly help Latinos. Through the efforts of the Task Force and the CHC, we worked with our colleagues to incorporate language that supports Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Again, working with colleagues, we were able to incorporate language that directed over $800 million in funding for clean energy job training and education programs targeted to low-income and minority groups.

We also must improve diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs under the federal government. We have to examine programs that are designed to promote diversity to ensure they broaden minority participation in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These programs provide an opportunity for Latino students to excel in these important fields, and we cannot let this opportunity pass by.

But the fight doesn't stop at legislation and it doesn't stop at in Washington. It is important that we translate the work in our nation's capitol to work in our state capitols, to initiatives in our local schools and businesses, to efforts in our own hometowns.

We must continue to fight for the Latino community in the months and years to come as we head into the clean energy future.


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