Selected category: Health

The Clean Power Plan: A Public Health Imperative

By Mezbuz via Wikimedia Commons

By Mezbuz via Wikimedia Commons

(EDF Attorney Ben Levitan co-authored this post)

The Clean Power Plan – our nation’s first-ever standards to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants – will help us address the urgent threat of climate change and move toward a clean energy future. It also offers important public health benefits.

Once fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan will reduce enough emissions of soot and smog-forming pollution to prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks, 1,700 heart attacks, and 3,600 premature deaths — every year.

That’s in addition to the Clean Power Plan’s tremendous contribution to fighting climate change. Climate change itself leads to harmful health impacts, including heat-related illnesses and deaths, longer allergy seasons, more asthma attacks from worse air quality, and more risk from vector-borne diseases like Zika, Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

Just this week, a group of 1,300 health and medical experts from all 50 states issued a Health Professionals Declaration on Climate Change calling for swift action on climate change to protect public health:

We know that the health of every American is threatened by climate change. This statement articulates our agreement on the urgency of addressing climate change to protect human health … Delay only undermines our success, and the longer we wait, the more lives will be affected.

The Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels, making it the most important step our nation has taken so far to combat climate change. So it’s no surprise that the public health community has joined the broad and diverse coalition supporting the Clean Power Plan in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

In a powerful amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief, eight leading health associations explained the public health benefits at stake in this litigation. The brief — from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others — underscores that defending the Clean Power Plan is critical to the health of our families and communities.

Public Health Benefits of the Clean Power Plan

In the brief, medical experts describe many of the health hazards wrought by climate change —hazards that the Clean Power Plan will have a crucial role in mitigating:

  • “Direct impacts from the changing climate include heat-related illness, declines in air quality, and increased respiratory and cardiovascular illness… Physicians in the United States are already observing the adverse human health effects of climate change.” (Health Associations Brief at page 2)
  • “Children younger than five, adults older than sixty-five, low-income individuals and communities of color are most vulnerable to the adverse health impacts of climate change given their reduced resilience to health hazards. These populations are at greatest risk of developing both chronic and acute illnesses from climate-related environmental factors.” (Health Associations Brief at pages 17 and 18)
  • “[W]arming trends allow for increases in vectors carrying harmful diseases. Higher temperatures expand the range of environments suitable to disease-carrying species, and contribute to a rise in extreme weather events that produce conditions conducive to clusters of water-, mosquito- and rodent-borne diseases.” (Health Associations Brief at page 9)
  • “There is a well-documented connection between rising temperatures and death, especially among the elderly and people with chronic disease. As one dramatic example, the 2003 European heat wave is estimated to have led to approximately 50,000 deaths in August alone… Similar impacts have been seen in the United States. In July 1995, Chicago experienced a heat wave that resulted in more than 600 excess deaths, 3,300 excess emergency department visits, and a significant increase in intensive care unit admissions for heat stroke. And a 2006 California heat wave was associated with over 16,000 excess visits to the emergency room and 1,182 excess hospitalizations.” (Health Associations Brief at pages 6 and 7)
  • “Failure to uphold the Clean Power Plan would undermine EPA’s ability to carry out its legal obligation to regulate carbon emissions that endanger human health, and would negatively impact the health of current and future generations of Americans.” (Health Associations Brief at page 3)

Here’s the full list of signatories to the brief:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Medical Association
  • American Thoracic Society
  • National Medical Association
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • National Association for Medical Direction of Respiratory Care
  • American Public Health Association

Health Workers Affirm the Public Health Imperative for the Clean Power Plan

The brief from these major health associations was echoed in other filings by some of our nation’s largest associations of health care workers.

In a declaration, Fernando Losada of National Nurses United — America’s largest federation of registered nurses — noted that National Nurses United members experience:

direct exposure to the harmful impacts of climate change and air pollution on their patients and community health in general. (Losada declaration, paragraph 3)

The declaration also highlights the particular risks faced by health care professionals:

increased rates of infectious disease are emerging due to the impact of global warming on vector ecology and water quality. Any increased incidence of infectious disease in the U.S. poses a risk for all Americans but particularly for our members. (Losada declaration, paragraph 5)

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — the largest health care union in the United States —also filed an amicus brief that detailed the manifest public health risks from climate change.

The SEIU brief highlighted in particular that the Clean Power Plan:

will produce substantial climate and health-related benefits in low-income communities and in communities of color. (SEIU brief, page 15)

Broad, Diverse Coalition of Clean Power Plan Defenders

Spanning a wide spectrum of medical expertise, all of these health experts agree that upholding the Clean Power Plan is a public health imperative.

The health experts join a vibrant coalition of Clean Power Plan supporters that includes 18 states, sixty cities, leading business innovators (including Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft), leading legal and technical experts, major consumer protection and low-income ratepayer organizations (including Consumers Union and Public Citizen), faith groups, more than 200 current and former members of Congress, and many others. On EDF’s website, you can read the legal briefs that each of those groups has filed in defense of the Clean Power Plan.

As leading health experts and other supporters have affirmed, the Clean Power Plan is an essential step to protect our children from illness and leave a safer, healthier world for future generations.









Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Five things you need to know before the Clean Power Plan oral argument

alternative-21581_640The Clean Power Plan oral argument is coming up soon. On September 27, attorneys will present their arguments in front of the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

EPA and the many supporters of the Clean Power Plan have already filed their written arguments – and so has the coalition of coal companies and their allies that are challenging the rule. (You can read all their submissions here.) And just yesterday, the D.C. Circuit released the final order on the argument’s format and duration.

The Clean Power Plan is America’s first-ever nationwide program to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. It sets eminently achievable carbon emission targets that phase in gradually, in line with current power sector trends, while giving states and power companies tremendous flexibility to determine how best to meet these goals.

As we approach September 27, here are five key facts to keep in mind:

  1. The Clean Power Plan has supporters across the country.

Power companies and state and local officials in forty-one states are supporting the Clean Power Plan in court – either through their state attorney general, a local power company, or a municipality. And there are a lot more supporters as well.

The final submitted briefs reflect a wide array of important perspectives in our society. Supporters of the Clean Power Plan in court include:

  • Leading businesses. Power companies that produce about 10 percent of our nation’s electricity as well as prominent, iconic businesses including Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Google, IKEA, Mars, and Microsoft
  • States and municipalities. 18 states and 60 cities, including major cities in states that are litigating against these protections – like Houston, Grand Rapids, and Miami
  • Consumers Union and other organizations addressing the economic benefits for consumers and low income ratepayers from expansive, low cost clean energy solutions
  • 41 faith communities including the National Council of Churches and the Catholic Climate Covenant
  • Numerous renewable energy companies that are members of the Advanced Energy Economy, American Wind Energy Association, and Solar Energy Industries Association, which together represent more than 3,000 companies in the advanced energy sector, a $200 billion industry in the United States
  • 25 business associations including American Sustainable Business Council, U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., as well as state associations from West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, among others
  • Current and former members of Congress, including 36 sitting Senators and 157 sitting members of the House
  • Leading public health associations such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • National security experts including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
  1. The legal and technical foundation of the Clean Power Plan is rock solid.

The Supreme Court has affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act three times since 2007. In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (2011), the Supreme Court specifically held that section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the provision that underlies the Clean Power Plan – “speaks directly” to the regulation of carbon pollution from existing power plants.

EPA exhaustively analyzed the Clean Power Plan to ensure that it was based on the best available technical information and would not compromise the affordability or reliability of our electricity supply. EPA also reviewed millions of comments, received on every aspect of the proposed version.

A range of renowned experts have affirmed the robust legal and technical bases for the Clean Power Plan in amicus brief submissions to the D.C. Circuit, including:

  • The Institute for Policy Integrity — represented by New York University Law Dean Emeritus Richard Revesz
  • Former EPA Administrators William Ruckelshaus and William Reilly, who served under Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush — represented by Harvard Law School’s Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus
  • Leon Billings and Tom Jorling — the principal drafters of the 1970 Clean Air Act
  • Former state energy and environmental officials — including Larry Soward, Commissioner at the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality under Texas Governor Rick Perry
  • Premier electric grid experts, who affirmed that EPA’s approach is fully in line with on-going power sector trends
  • Top climate scientists, who articulated the latest research on observed and projected impacts from our changing climate
  1. The tremendous pace of clean energy development further reinforces the Clean Power Plan’s reasonableness.

The cost of renewable energy is falling at an extraordinary rate, spurring dramatic expansion in its use. The cost of new wind power has dropped 60 percent — and the cost of new solar by 80 percent — since just 2009.

Renewable energy is anticipated to make up approximately 63 percent of new capacity additions in 2016. In fact, the amount of new renewable energy capacity developed in the first three months of 2016 exceeded new natural gas by a factor of more than seventy to one. Almost 100 gigawatts of additional new renewable energy resources are now projected in the United States by 2020, and annual investment in energy efficiency has quadrupled in the last decade.

America’s powerful clean energy trends further buttress the feasibility of the Clean Power Plan’s targets. But you don’t have to take our word for it — because power companies have said so themselves.

In their Clean Power Plan filing, major power producers emphasized their strong support for the Clean Power Plan, highlighting that it “harnesses existing trends within the electricity sector” and was set “with ample margin and attention to what is practically attainable.”

As the companies noted, both they and the power sector in general have “have successfully reduced emissions within their generation portfolios without compromising reliability and will continue to do so” under the Clean Power Plan.

Dominion Resources, an owner of several large coal-fired power plants in the Mid-Atlantic, affirmed the feasibility of compliance in a lengthy amicus brief submitted in support of the Clean Power Plan.

  1. States and power companies are charging ahead.

On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the Clean Power Plan in an unprecedented order. Nonetheless, states and power companies are voluntarily moving ahead, in recognition of the tremendous value in following the Clean Power Plan’s flexible, sensible approach to achieving emissions reductions.

More than half of states are continuing to assess planning options under the Clean Power Plan. 14 states across the country have explicitly requested that EPA continue providing information and guidance to help them make informed decisions about potential Clean Power Plan obligations as they continue moving forward. California developed its proposed Clean Power Plan state plan in a year and released it for public comment earlier this month. State officials across the country have voiced support for sensible continued planning — as one Wyoming state legislator put it, “Wyoming should be prepared.” (See a full compilation of state statements on the Clean Power Plan here.)

Power companies across the country have expressed similar sentiments. A representative from Mid-American Energy highlighted that they “wish” the stay hadn’t happened, because of the resulting uncertainty. American Electric Power, a major producer of coal-fired electricity, said that the Supreme Court stay “doesn’t change our focus on the diversification of our generation fleet,” and those diversification plans include more gas and renewables. Power companies are already investing in clean energy in response to the market and their customers — for these companies, any delay in planning creates needless risk and uncertainty.

  1. This record-breaking summer highlights just how urgently we need sensible climate protections.

It’s challenging to encapsulate all the extreme weather we’ve witnessed in 2016. Just in the U.S., we’ve experienced a series of dangerous heat waves, deadly floods, and extreme storms. This week’s flooding in Louisiana is just the latest heart-rending example — with lives tragically lost and upended across the state. Yesterday, NASA announced that July 2016 was the warmest month ever in 136 years of modern record-keeping. According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2016 is firmly on track to be the warmest year yet. The Weather Channel noted all of these wild weather events from the first six months of 2016 together here, in a website on 2016’s “Weirdest Weather.” All these events are fully in line with the hotter, more extreme weather that’s predicted under a changing climate.

Meanwhile, new research only underscores the human health costs of climate change. Mitigating the human health impacts of climate change will add to the Clean Power Plan’s substantial health benefits from reducing soot and smog pollutants. EPA estimates that once the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented, these reductions will — every year — avoid 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays.

These climate risks and essential health benefits highlight the importance of having a mandatory framework to ensure emissions reductions. Clean energy trends are already charging ahead, but investors need the certainty that the Clean Power Plan provides — and all Americans’ health and well-being are depending on it.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, EPA litgation, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Policy| Comments are closed

The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health – a Sobering New Report

We have even more information this week about the ways climate change poses a threat to human health.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program just released its newest report—The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States. This scientific assessment is the culmination of three years of work by hundreds of experts, and builds on the more general National Climate Assessment released in 2014.

The report concludes that every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change.

Health Threats from Climate Change graphic

Graphic created by Ilissa Ocko, EDF Scientist

Scientists have known for decades that climate change threatens human health via excessive heat, worsened air quality, water related illnesses, food safety, diseases transmitted by pests like fleas and mosquitos, and mental stress. The new report thoroughly characterizes our current understanding of these impacts.

Because scientific understanding has advanced significantly in recent years, the authors also reviewed new information and insights from several recent scientific, peer-reviewed publications and other publicly available resources.

For example, new data revealed that the Ragweed season has grown by as much as 27 days in the central U.S. from 1995 to 2011, and the incidence of Lyme disease in the Northeast has doubled from 2001 to 2014, both consistent with warming trends.

Recent modeling studies have also improved quantification estimates of and confidence in projected health outcomes from climate change. By midcentury, scientists project that there will be as many as thousands of additional ground-level ozone (smog) related illnesses and premature deaths, and the majority of the western U.S. will have a 500 percent  increase in the number of weeks with risk of very large fires. By the end of the century, scientists project that there will be an additional 27,000 summertime heat-related deaths annually in over 200 U.S. cities (that are currently home to 160 million people), and harmful toxin-producing algal blooms could develop up to two months earlier and persist for up to two months longer.

Through climate and weather changes and disruptions to ecosystems and societal systems, here are the main concerns about climate change impacts on human health:

  • Temperature Related Death and Illness — Future climate warming could cause up to tens of thousands of additional deaths each year from heat in the summer, from loss of ability to control internal temperature, and worsened chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
  • Air Quality Impacts — The future could include limited productivity at work and school due to exacerbated ground-level ozone (smog) health impacts from modified weather patterns conducive to ozone formation, and worsened allergy and asthma conditions from more airborne pollen and longer pollen seasons
  • Vectorborne Disease — The seasonality, distribution, and prevalence of vectorborne diseases, including Lyme disease and West Nile virus,  may change with changing temperature and rainfall patterns due to altered geographic and seasonal distributions of mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas
  • Water-Related Illness — Risk of exposure to illnesses increases as the growth, survival, spread, and toxicity of water-related pathogens and toxins is impacted by temperature and extreme rainfall events, and aging water infrastructure is vulnerable to failure with extreme events and storm surges
  • Food Safety, Nutrition, and Distribution — Rising temperatures, changing weather patterns, and extreme events have consequences for contamination, spoilage, and the disruption of food distribution, whereas higher carbon dioxide levels lower nutritional value of crops despite boosting plant growth
  • Extreme Weather — Fatalities, injuries, and infrastructure damages are imminent with increases in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme precipitation, hurricanes, coastal inundation, drought, and wildfires
  • Mental Health and Well-Being — Mental health conditions may develop with exposure to disasters or worsen by extreme health

Overall, the report is a sobering portrait of the risks we face because of climate change — and it underscores the urgency for climate action.




Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Plants & Animals, Science| Comments are closed

3 reasons the Zika outbreak may be linked to climate change

The regions that the Zika virus outbreak has struck hardest, such as Brazil and Colombia, also happen to be areas that are currently plagued by hotter-than-usual temperatures.

So is there a connection?

The ways that virus-carrying mosquitoes change their behavior with warmer temperatures may, in fact, point to a link between the Zika outbreak and climate change like the one that exists with malaria, Lyme Disease and other ills.

While it’s important to remember that it’s probably a combination of reasons for the current Zika virus outbreak – including movement of people and available breeding grounds – there are three ways in particular that warmer weather may be contributing to the crisis:

graphic_v3 (2)

1. Hotter temperatures make mosquitoes hungrier

Female mosquitoes require blood meals for reproduction. Along with many cold-blooded animals, mosquitoes feed more frequently with higher temperatures. The more they eat, the likelier they are to get infected and spread the disease.

2. Warm air incubates the virus faster

A virus must incubate inside a mosquito before the mosquito becomes infectious. That takes about 10 days, roughly a mosquito’s lifespan, so the mosquito will often die before it can spread the disease.

But hotter temperatures speed up the incubation process in the cold-blooded mosquito, because the virus can replicate faster. This means that the mosquito will be alive longer while infectious, thus having more time to transmit the disease.

3. Mosquito territory expands as the climate warms

Mosquitoes flourish in warm climates, restricting their range based on temperature. But with climate change, plants and animals are moving northward and upward, and we know mosquitoes do the same as new areas become warmer and a suitable habitat.

As mosquitoes expand their range, they can introduce diseases to populations that otherwise would have been safely out of reach. The distribution of the Zika-carrying mosquito, in particular, has wildly increased over the past few decades, which have also been the hottest decade on Earth in more than 1,000 years.

In fact, the current epidemic took off in 2015, the hottest year in South America and globally since record-keeping began 136 years ago.

The links between mosquitoes and temperature are scientifically clear, and it’s possible that climate change may now be playing a role in the spread of the Zika virus, a disease suspected of causing serious birth defects.

To know for sure, and to help nations deal with the outbreak, more research is needed to tease out the specific causes of this global catastrophe.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Voices blog.

Also posted in News, Plants & Animals, Science| Comments are closed

Saving Thousands of Lives, Preventing Millions of Asthma Attacks – And Rising Above the Hair Salon Rhetoric

Go Fly a Kite!

If you had the chance to save 7,900 lives every year and prevent 1.8 million annual asthma attacks in children, would you take it?

That is the very question before the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House now as we are nearing the final deadline for updated national health-based smog air quality standards.

Smog is a deadly pollutant that contributes to asthma attacks, early deaths, missed school days for kids and more harmful impacts to human health.

  1. Strong, health-based smog standards would save the lives of 7,900 Americans each year.
  2. Strong, health-based smog standards would prevent 1.8 million annual asthma attacks in children.
  3. Strong, health-based standards are essential to ensure that all Americans know whether the air in their neighborhoods and communities is safe to breathe – through the “truth in labeling” that links our nation’s air pollution monitoring system with air quality standards anchored in medical science.

It is well established that our nation’s health-based standards are the very bedrock of our nation’s clean air laws – saving lives and empowering communities with critical air quality information.

What is standing in the way of saving lives and ensuring healthier air for our families and children? A well-funded “sky is falling” campaign by polluters and other naysayers. These big emitters claim that our nation cannot afford protective smog standards. These opponents also attack the science that shows the need for a stronger smog standard, in direct opposition to the more than one thousand peer-reviewed studies that EPA considered while working on updating the health-based standard.

Unfortunately, these “sky is falling” claims are all too familiar. Claims questioning science and fear mongering over economic impacts have been made almost every time we talk about the need for stronger clean air protections – and they have never borne out. Clean air benefits outweigh costs of implementation by about 30 to one, according to a landmark study assessing the Clean Air Act.

It’s worth recalling the outlandish claims made by opponents of the 1997 smog standard. A key Senator from Michigan warned that health-protective smog standards would cause hair salons to go out of business. You’ve probably noticed that we still have a lot of hair salons in America. We also have a lot less smog – and that has saved a lot of lives.

But we could do much better. That’s why I hope that EPA and White House will take this opportunity to lead on clean air — and to ensure longer, healthier lives for millions of Americans in this generation and the next. Let’s save lives. Let’s protect our children and our communities. Let’s rise above the “sky is falling” rhetoric and work together to ensure the sky is clearing — putting medical science, healthy families and health communities first.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy| Comments are closed

The Rev. Sally Bingham: Pope Francis' climate message speaks to all faiths

By Rev. Sally G. Bingham,  president and founder of Interfaith Power & Light. Rev. Bingham has served on EDF’s board of trustees since 1986.

Source: Wikimedia

It’s unfortunate that discussions about climate change, which should focus on solutions and our responsibility to act, often become political arguments. That’s why it’s so refreshing and important that Pope Francis, who will address Congress this month, is bringing us all back to what really matters.

The climate change debate should be about what kind of world we want to leave our children, and how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

I’m an Episcopal priest and have been working at the crossroads of religion and climate change for 15 years. I deeply respect Pope Francis’ powerful, moral voice.

All of us, Catholic or not, Christian or not, must recognize our responsibility and obligation to act in the face of human-induced climate change.

Pope Francis has reminded us that everyone has a moral responsibility to be a caretaker of God’s creation. At the very least, he says, we must not leave a damaged and unhealthy world to future generations.

We don’t want our children to ask, “You knew and you continued to pollute?”

We don’t want to leave the poor of the world – who will be hardest hit by extreme weather, instability, disease and other impacts of climate change – to suffer for our failure to act. We all have a responsibility to care for one another, but people of faith have an obligation to do so.

Do unto others…

Most religions have a version of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s the message we should convey to everyone, everywhere.

Right now we are leaving a great burden to our children and grandchildren, even with overwhelming evidence of the consequences. Would we want that done to us?

As a person of faith, I cannot say I love God and love my neighbor (two of the Bible’s Ten Commandments) without doing all that I can to preserve creation – to act out of love for what God loves.

We must look after our garden, Planet Earth

As Pope Francis says, God put us here with the purpose of looking after “the garden” and each other. We have a particular responsibility for vulnerable communities that are hurt first and worst by a changing climate.

In the end, it is about this fragile Earth, our island home, and all who live on it.

Environmental Defense Fund, on whose board I serve, is working with people across the political spectrum and both parties to find answers to this challenge.

Our scientists and economists are focused on finding practical pathways to a cooler planet. But nothing brings people together like a moral call from someone who’s above politics, which makes the pope’s message so profoundly important.

Pope Francis is helping us live up to our responsibility and to finally do something about this catastrophic threat to our common home.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments are closed
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