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Barbara Gottlieb EPA Carbon Rule Testimony

Testimony of Barbara Gottlieb
Director of Environment and Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Before the Environmental Protection Agency
On Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602
July 30, 2014 – Washington, DC

Good afternoon.  My name is Barbara Gottlieb.  I am the Director of Environment and Health at Physicians for Social Responsibility, a national organization of health professionals addressing the greatest threats to health and survival.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to health and survival, which is why Physicians for Social Responsibility applauds the EPA for introducing this necessary and important rule.  PSR is proud to support this rule as a welcome first step towards slashing our emissions of carbon nationwide.  Greatly reducing carbon pollution, as quickly as we prudently can, is the most important thing our society can do to address climate change.  And that is necessary to protect our health.

Climate change threatens health in multiple, serious ways. 

  • As heat increases, we see more ozone formation, which can trigger an increase in asthma attacks, aggravate other chronic lung diseases, and aggravate pre-existing heart problems like angina.
  • Heat waves increase the risk of heat stroke, especially for the elderly and for people living in urban heat islands.  Heat stroke can be fatal.
  • Higher temperatures expand the ranges of disease-carrying insects.  For us in the U.S., that means new populations exposed to West Nile virus, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  Higher temperatures also mean that mosquitoes reproduce more rapidly and bite more frequently.
  • Climate change makes heavy intense downpours and flooding more common.  In rural areas, flooding and runoff pick up animal wastes, pesticides, and fertilizers.  In cities, they carry pollutants and also overwhelm sewage systems, causing untreated sewage to flow into drinking water and recreational water sources.  This can contaminate water with bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that can trigger outbreaks of diarrheal diseases (legionella, campylobacter, and cholera).
  • Wildfires:  Besides burns and death, wildfires also greatly increase exposure to particulate matter.  That worsens respiratory conditions such as allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- and also increases heart attacks and lung cancer. 
  • Climate change is already affecting our food supply and our water supply, and if we don't reduce carbon pollution, it's only going to get worse.  Estimates vary, but for every 1.8°Fahrenheit increase in global average surface temperature, we can expect about a 10% decline in yields of the world's major grain crops— corn, soybean, rice and wheat.
  • Climate change also contributes to displacement, stress, psychological effects, conflict, and war.  The war in Syria has been linked to that country's years of drought, and conflict and violence may increase in many places as food and water supplies constrict.

Those are some of the reasons the physicians, nurses, other health practitioners and public health professionals in Physicians for Social Responsibility recognize this rule as urgent and necessary.  At the same time, it is not sufficient.  Our organization strongly recommends the following:

  • Call for greater reliance on energy efficiency and renewable energy.  They should be the preferred solutions that states pursue in meeting their carbon reduction targets.
  • Remove nuclear power from the list of options.  Nuclear power produces carcinogenic wastes that can be spilled or released into the environment, as we witnessed at Fukushima… and Chernobyl… and Three Mile Island…  Those wastes remain lethal to human beings essentially forever.
  • Don't encourage natural gas as an alternative to coal.  Scientists have documented that natural gas extraction, specifically extraction using hydraulic fracturing, allows far more methane to escape into the atmosphere than was previously thought.  Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  Over a 100-year timeframe, it's 34 times more potent.  But over a 20-year timeframe – and that is the timeframe that matters, given how quickly climate change is advancing – the IPCC tells us that it is 86 times more potent.  That's devastating.  It means that natural gas is terribly damaging to the climate and should not be pursued.
  • I know you'll get a lot of pushback on this one, but we at PSR call on you to increase the target levels for CO2 reductions by the states.  If we are to keep our planet at a cool, healthy temperature, protect our families, sustain food production and water supplies, and fend off increasing risk of disease, much greater CO2 reductions are needed.

Physicians for Social Responsibility calls on you to finThank you.

Page Updated August 1, 2014