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EPA Carbon Rule a Critical Step to Protect America’s Health

Posted by Catherine Thomasson, MD on June 3, 2014

PSR applauds the unveiling of the draft carbon rule for existing power plants.  Upon implementation, this new standard will immediately protect the lives and health of those who live downwind from dirty power plants.  In addition, this important rule, called for under the Clean Air Act and twice affirmed by the Supreme Court, will help protect generations to come by reducing the threat of climate change.

In particular, reductions in coal use will reduce heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias and stroke by lowering levels of particulate pollution and ground-level ozone.  According to EPA scientists, the new standard will prevent 6,600 premature deaths a year and up to 150,000 asthma attacks by reducing  sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.

Health impacts of climate change. PSR members, representing health care providers and the public health community, are solidly behind the need for a carbon standard.  Climate change is already severely impacting health.  More frequent extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy kill many.  They also affect elderly and chronically ill residents caught without electricity for weeks, as well as those left homeless.  The drought in the West is causing higher prices for food, which will affect the 15% of people already living in food insecure households in the U.S.  The drought is also resulting in more severe wildfires with marked impacts on respiratory and cardiac health from downwind particulates.

Sea level rise is already causing flooding or sewer backup at high tide in cities like Norfolk, Virginia and Miami, Florida. Flooding causes water damage, mold issues and animal infestations and worsened asthma and allergies.  Flooding also causes injuries and death and creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease-bearing hosts.  

State Flexibility. President Obama and the EPA are acting judiciously by allowing flexibility of the states to implement this rule. The rule offers incentives to increase alternatives. Energy efficiency is the cheapest alternative and will save ratepayers money in the long run.  Clean wind energy is cheaper than new coal power plants, and solar and geothermal sources will not cause undue health threats that mining and burning of fossil fuels cause.

Cost comparison.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the carbon reduction costs from this new standard will be $50 billion per year until 2030.  Their figure is much higher than the EPA cost estimate of $8 billion per year. Either estimate would be a considerable savings, since U.S. taxpayers picked up the $100 billion tab in 2012 for crop failures, wildfire and other weather-related disaster relief according to the report by Ceres, “Inaction on Climate Change: The Cost to Taxpayers

Using fossil fuels is bad for our health.  First there are significant health impacts to coal miners and hydraulic fracturing workers who are exposed to air pollution and chemical-laden water spills. Local health impacts from hydraulic fracturing are coming to light with higher ground level ozone pollution, volatile organic compounds and the serious danger of ground and surface water contamination from inadequately drilling safety standards or spills. Coal ash spills and airborne heavy metals exposure from the end product of coal burning are seriously hazardous. For example, neurologic impacts such as autism and IQ loss are caused by exposure to mercury and lead as well as cancers from arsenic.

Stay tuned to PSR as we analyze the rule and respond appropriately.  We will need all hands on deck to support the EPA standards on carbon pollution.  The rule is an exciting and bold step toward a healthier energy future for the United States.  Please stand with us to protect ourselves and generations to come.

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