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Dr. Pouné Saberi EPA Carbon Rule Testimony

EPA Clean Power Plan Testimony
Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH
July 30, 2014
Washington, DC

There is a Dakota Indian saying that goes like this: “ When you find yourself riding a dead horse, dismount.”

My name is Dr. Poune Saberi and I am a physician in Occupational and Environmental Medicine and a faculty member at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I am here to say, fossil fuels are dead and we must dismount.

The Clean Power Plan is a key life saving move and I want to thank EPA for their initiative.. I want to tell you about a first encounter with a patient that I will never forget. The initial visit started out routine, but when I asked if she had any children, her eyes welled up and she began telling me the story of her 17 year old son destined for college with scholarship, raised as an only child by this single mother. One day she received a call that he had an asthma attack and was taken to the emergency room. This time the asthma attack proved to be fatal and she never even had a chance to speak to him before he stopped breathing.

44% of all asthma hospitalizations are for children. I practiced primary care for ten years before specializing in Occupational and Environmental medicine. I have seen the wide spectrum of patients hurt by exposure to outdoor air pollution. Seeing the alarmingly rapid and shallow breathing of an infant is not an experience you would want to voluntarily take part in. It is heart breaking when the vulnerable among us unfairly take a large hit from our actions.

At the other end of the spectrum are the workers in the fossil fuel industry. I live and work in Pennsylvania where methane gas development has exposed many of the workers to volatile organic compounds, silica sand and radioactive material. A 26-year-old worker died in SWPA when a methane gas well exploded. This is why I am here today. When industry focuses on profits over health, it is up to us to raise our voices against these unacceptable sacrifices.

I commend EPA for introducing this rule. However, this is just an introduction - an introduction to a promising direction as a society if we all agree to make the efficiency proposal much more stringent and the focus on non-combustibles much more robust.

Here are the strong points of the Clean Power Plan.

  1. The co-benefits. That means when CO2 is reduced many other air pollutants are also reduced, like SO2, NOx and Hg. These outdoor pollutants are considered carcinogenic. Therefore, when there are less of them, there is less lung cancer, less bladder cancer, less memory loss.
  2. Less carbon dioxide means lower utility bills. That is always good for everyone’s pockets.
  3. Lowering CO2 equals lowering green house gases in the atmosphere and addressing the impacts CO2 has on global heating. Less ocean acidification helps fisheries; less extreme weather patterns help agriculture and commerce. And lastly, mitigating climate change will have its own health benefits by reducing the ferocity of floods, tornadoes and hurricanes.

There are many things in our world today we cannot fix. This one we can. 

Here is, what I believe, this rule has ignored.

  1. Focusing on downstream CO2 emissions from power plants and ignoring upstream impacts of coal and gas production is like a doctor just treating the bruises without acknowledging the domestic violence happening at home. There is a high risk of health exposure and environmental hazards at each step of extraction, production and transport. We must consider the entire life cycle of energy production.
  2.  Non-combustion sources of energy production like solar, wind and geothermal will help the states reach the CO2 reductions faster and earlier with less GHG production. Switching coal power plants to natural gas or nuclear is like switching from one addictive drug to another. The problem has not been addressed. Natural gas and nuclear are not viable alternatives to coal.
  3.  Non-combustible energy production is a labor-intensive economy and creates many jobs. The occupational hazards are minimal and the sun and wind resources are not siphoned off like fossil fuel leading to boom bust cycles. Conversely, coal miners and oil and gas workers have some of the most dangerous jobs in the US. Switching away from these jobs to jobs that are much less hazardous, workers and laborers will benefit by staying healthy, as well as continue to be proud financial providers for themselves and their families.

In summary, we must phase out coal, not transition to natural gas or nuclear and fully embrace non-carbon, non-combustible sources of energy.

I will end by pleading that this administration transition from being a world leader in pollution to being a world leader in energy solution.

Thank you.

Page Updated August 4, 2014