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Elisa Batista's picture

(My father, Diego Batista, at one of his favorite fishing spots in Key West, Florida.)

I consider myself to be an optimistic person. I did score a 90 out of 100 in an online happiness survey. As I often joke with friends, it’s the Puerto Rican in me. Did you know that Puerto Rico consistently scores in the top 5 countries where people claim to be happiest? We are a joyful people. :)

However, I am pessimistic about one thing that caused me to lose 10 points in that happiness survey: the environment. Yes, I am one of those worrywart moms who is convinced that our air and water has degraded to the point that my children are lucky to have their limbs intact, and I will be amazed if they could ever reproduce children of their own.

I recycle, compost, walk almost everywhere, and have energy efficient light bulbs and appliances in my home. Yet, I am convinced it is not enough to save my children from the environmental catastrophe that lies ahead.

My pessimism has nothing to do with what the scientists, industry, the media or anyone else says. It is what I have seen that worries me most: the disproportionately high asthma rates among Puerto Ricans; the upshot of obesity rates, which disproportionately affect our community and can’t all be explained by diet and exercise alone; and all the outdoor recreational activities I once took for granted in my childhood that are no longer available to my children. Take for instance, fishing.

I have so many fond childhood memories of fishing with my dad on Haulover Pier in North Miami Beach. (I grew up in North Miami proper.) We caught so many fish there -- some the size of my dad’s arm! -- that we would marinade them in Puerto Rican bacalao sauce or slice and fry them like steak. Now? I see fishermen at the Marina where I live in Berkeley, California, and I have no desire to throw a fishing line there. It’s just that the water looks so dirty. The bay is dotted by many industrial-looking businesses emitting smoke, and sits beneath the multi-lane 580 highway.

The water looks blue and pristine from afar, but up close it is a murky green. It isn’t uncommon to catch a glimpse of floating trash. I have no desire to wade in the water, much less eat anything from it.

As for the succulent seafood meals of my childhood, I have never prepared so much as a tuna fish sandwich for my kids. When I was pregnant, I was told to limit my tuna, and seafood intake in general, because of its high mercury content. This, by the way, is an actual recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. I never heard such a thing growing up in the ‘80s, and in fact, my mother was encouraged to eat seafood when she was pregnant with me.

If some types of seafood or any significant amount of any seafood is unsafe for pregnant women, why would I feel safe to feed it to my children’s developing bodies? And there are so many examples of environmental degradation like this one, food being a big one.

While I am by no means a purist when it comes to organic food, I do try to buy organic when I can. I figure that in the long-run too many foods with hormones, pesticides and other chemicals can’t be good for a developing child. When I do buy a non-organic item, I often wonder when did life become this complicated? What happened in the years since my mom blissfully bought any brand of cow’s milk or fed us meat no matter where it came from?

I am concerned, and all too often I feel powerless. That’s why I was thrilled to accept an invitation by the Environmental Defense Fund to join the Moms Clean Air Force. I am getting paid a small honorarium for being a part of this task force, but as you all know, I have been blogging and advocating on behalf of environmental issues for a while now -- many of them unpaid like this pilot program I helped launch in New Hampshire.

Through Moms Clean Air Force, I will help shine a spotlight on legislation that can ensure that our air is clean to breathe and our water safe to drink. As I have mentioned here before, there is always heavy industry lobbying against such initiatives -- as companies don’t want to pay to clean up after themselves. But our collective voices are powerful. There is much that we can do -- all from our computers.

So what can we do today? You could all join me at Moms Clean Air Force by following them on Twitter and Facebook. Your stories are also very important.

There is currently a 60-day comment period for a proposed "Mercury/Air Toxics Rule for Power Plants" that would reduce emissions of toxic air chemicals from power plants like mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases. These toxic air pollutants, by the way, are suspected of causing cancer and other serious illnesses like asthma.

You can send your letters to Emails should reference these Docket ID numbers: EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0044 (NSPS action)
Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0234 (NESHAP action)

As I sent in my letter, I was left reminiscing about my fishing experiences and how sad it was that I have not shared any of it with my children. Who knows? Maybe one day my kids will go fishing at the Marina. And I will join them.

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