Many politicians, policymakers and cable news commentators focus solely on immigration when discussing Latino matters, overlooking the tremendous breadth of issues that concern Hispanic Americans.

As the annual celebration of Earth Day nears, the nation’s leaders would be wise to remember that the 44.3 million Latinos in the United States also share the dreams, hopes and concerns of all Americans, including the desire to slow the deterioration of our environment and to renew it for future generations. In fact, the future of our environment is especially important to the Hispanic community because 50 percent of U.S. Latinos are under the age of 26 and 35 percent are younger than 18, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

One way to help achieve this is to stop the headlong, senseless embrace of biofuels as a linchpin of alternative energy policy. As we’re learning more each day, diverting our food crops into the development of ethanol is bad for the economy, bad for our health and bad for the environment.

Increased use of corn ethanol had seemed like a good idea when Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 as a way to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. That law immediately accelerated corn ethanol production by paying refiners a 51-cent tax rebate per gallon and mandating the production of nine billion gallons of renewable food-based biofuel use in 2008 and 15 billion gallons by 2015. Additional Federal mandates for biofuels raise the total mandate to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

Dig deeper, however, and it becomes clear that the cost of corn and other bio-fuel production around the globe is too high. In fact, the cost to the environment is shocking, represented by the massive deforestation in the Amazon, and, on the other side of the world, as a recent Time magazine cover story noted, ‘Malaysia is converting forests into palm oil farms [for bio-diesel] so rapidly that it’s running out of uncultivated land.’

What’s more, after diverting a quarter of the domestic corn crop to fuel, oil consumption has been reduced by a mere one percent.

Farmers, perhaps understandably in light of current energy policies, have shifted immense amounts of acreage from corn-for-food to corn-for-fuel to capitalize on the demand. The result has been that the price of corn has doubled over the past two years. Additionally, other crops are being displaced by increased corn planting, thus raising the costs for those products as well.

Meanwhile, a new study released by the World Bank just last week found that the surge in food prices is contributing to global poverty. Riots sparked by food shortages, have broken out in Haiti, where the average income is $2 a day. Argentine farmers have mounted protests against that government’s imposition of an export tax on certain foods. Tortilla protests have hit Mexico.

In fact, not only has there been an increase in the cost of corn for human consumption, the cost of corn as livestock feed has also risen, and that drives up the costs for milk, meat, eggs and poultry, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Egg prices, for example, have risen 69 percent in just the last three years.

For Hispanics – whose median U.S. household income was just $37,800 in 2006, this news is especially threatening. It is in our national interest to ensure that Hispanic households, like those in other ethnic communities, are not shoved to the economic margins by the impact, however unintended, of misguided energy policy.

To be sure, the entire burden of cleaning up the environment cannot be laid at the feet of bio-fuel proponents, but on Earth Day, when Hispanics and all other Americans are focused on ways to leave the planet in better shape for future generations, changing direction on this disastrous policy is an important and achievable objective. The U.S. Congress needs to reconsider this flawed energy policy that sacrifices food for fuel – and damages our world in the bargain.

Gus West is president of the Hispanic Institute, a Washington-based non-profit organization that provides an educational forum for an informed and empowered Hispanic America.