Regina Romero, the mayor of Tucson, Arizona, calls herself an “innate environmentalist.” Romero’s father, whom she describes as a “real boots-and-hat cowboy” from the mountains of Sonora, Mexico, taught her the value of open spaces and conservation. “I was the sixth and the youngest in the family. I received all the hand-me-downs,” she says of growing up in Somerton, Arizona. “Saving electricity, saving water, recycling everything—it was ingrained in me.”
That ethos has defined her priorities in public office, first as a member of the Tucson City Council for 12 years and now as the city’s first Latina mayor. Since her election in 2019, Romero has spent much of her energy confronting climate change, an issue that hits especially hard in the desert. Tucson is the third-fastest-warming city in the country, behind Las Vegas and El Paso, Texas.
In addition to passing an official climate-emergency declaration with the city council, she’s spearheading an effort to plant one million trees in Tucson by 2030. “Besides helping with absorbing CO2 emissions, they’re also a beautification effort,” she says.
Romero regards climate change as not just a public health issue but an intersectional one. “We see more brown kids with asthma because of air quality, and we see more seniors, especially here in Arizona, dying because of complications of heat-related illnesses,” she says. “We see low-income communities being affected because they have $400, $500 [electricity] bills every month throughout the summer, because it’s hotter and hotter.”
This year, Tucson will prioritize planting trees in areas that experience the greatest heat-island effect, and Romero is leading the fundraising effort: “Climate change affects everyone, and our private-sector partners need to be responsible and responsive to helping us become a much more climate-resilient city.”•