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Heat Advisory: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet
by Dr. Alan Lockwood

Drawing on peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, Dr. Lockwood meticulously details the symptoms of climate change and their medical side effects.

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EPA Acts to Reduce Industrial Carbon Pollution from New Power Plants -- A Critical First!

March 29, 2012

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) applauds the new standards announced by the Environmental Protection Agency on March 27 to limit industrial carbon pollution from new power plants.  Limiting carbon pollution is an important step in mitigating climate change and reducing the associated health effects that already impact the lives of millions of Americans.  

The EPA standard, while of limited application (it applies only to power plants built in the future), is the federal government’s first concrete measure to slash carbon pollution.  As such, it is expected to face intense opposition from the coal industry and many utilities.  To assure its survival, PSR and other health and environmental groups hope to rally the largest force of public support ever brought to bear in favor of an EPA standard. 

Add your name to a brief statement saluting this important step forward.  Express your support of this critical effort to improve air quality and reduce climate change.

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Worsening heat impacts

Carbon pollution fuels climate change, leading to increased temperatures which increase the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog.  Smog in turn triggers asthma attacks, permanently damages lungs and reduces lung function.  Children are the most vulnerable to this harm.  Also affected are people with preexisting respiratory and cardiac ailments and those who work or recreate out of doors.

Already, over 120 million Americans live in counties where air quality standards are not met. As a result, they experience needless exacerbations of asthma and other respiratory diseases, the third leading cause of death among Americans.  Rising temperatures will increase those impacts.

Rising temperatures also expose more Americans to conditions that can result in serious illness and death due to heat-related stress, water-borne and disease-borne insects, and extreme weather.

Technically feasible

The proposed standard, which will apply only to electricity generating units not yet constructed, sets an emissions performance standard, not a cap.  That means that new power plants will meet an emission rate that is technically feasible and economically reasonable.  Indeed California, Oregon and Washington already have stricter standards in place.

The standard will limit future power plants to emissions of no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emission per megawatt-hour of electricity produced.  By ensuring that new power plants take their greenhouse emissions into account before commencing construction, it will promote innovations and modernization of power plants and improve the quality of the air we breathe. 

The health savings from limiting carbon pollution are estimated to far outweigh the costs to the industry in taking these first steps

Medical, scientific consensus

Health professionals and scientists from PSR and around the world, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the national academies of the United States and the other G-8 nations, plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa, all agree that climate change is real and that industrial emissions of carbon dioxide are one of the principal causes.

Worldwide, increases in temperature are associated with reductions in the yields of corn, rice, and wheat. Heat waves and droughts are increasingly common, including in the southwestern United States. Local public health professionals in the U.S. are aware of the health threats posed by climate change and recognize that these will get worse in the populations they serve. The new standards help address those concerns.

In the announcement, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said that these steps will “reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy.”

Affirmed by Supreme Court

The proposed standards are EPA’s response to the US Supreme Court’s 2007  decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. That landmark decision determined that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants and subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. Following that decision, EPA began the process of making scientific determinations on the environmental hazards and threats to public health resulting from increases in harmful greenhouse gas pollution. 

In December 2009, EPA issued its “Endangerment Findings,” stating that “current and projected concentrations of the six key ...  greenhouse gases [including carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”

PSR filed comments and submitted testimony that contributed to the process of reaching that Finding.

“The new carbon standards are a critical element in moving the nation toward the goals of better health and a sustainable, secure energy future,” said Dr. Alan Lockwood, Emeritus Professor of Neurology at the University at Buffalo and a member of the PSR Board and Co-Chair of its Environment and Health Committee.

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