By: Harold P. Wimmer, President and CEO, American Lung Association
We are seeing the impacts on climate change right now, yet many people do not understand the critical connections between climate change and health, particularly lung health. Excess heat and lack of rain lead to increased air pollution and wildfires. Not only are we all sweltering together, we’re also breathing unhealthy air together. Meanwhile other extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and flooding can leave behind mold, polluted floodwater and other health hazards. And unfortunately, these examples demonstrate just a couple of the many complex ways that climate change endangers our health. For the sake of our health, state leaders must not delay their efforts to implement climate solutions.
This week, a crucial step takes place in Washington that will affect how we as a nation can tackle one of the underlying causes of that increasing heat—the carbon pollution that causes climate change. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in litigation over the Clean Power Plan, an important tool that will help reduce the impacts of climate change and air pollution threatening Americans’ health.
Just over a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave states the Clean Power Plan to reduce climate change and protect our health. The Supreme Court put EPA’s ability to implement the plan on hold during the litigation.
While we wait, dirty power plants continue to emit unlimited carbon pollution that worsens climate change and promises hotter summers to come. They pump out other harmful pollutants at the same time, putting all Americans at immediate risk of premature death, asthma attacks and heart attacks and other well-documented health threats. Millions of children, older adults and people living in low-income areas are disproportionately at risk. Protecting their health, right now and in the future, is why we continue to fight for full implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
In my work at the American Lung Association, I’ve met so many people with personal stories about how air pollution has impacted their lives. The Clean Power Plan is critical for people like Laura Kellogg and her family. Laura’s three children have asthma and spent too much of their childhood struggling to breathe. On the advice of the children’s physician, the family moved from New England to the North Carolina coast, where the improved air quality has allowed all three kids to lead healthier, more active lives. Laura and her family have been vocal supporters of the Clean Power Plan because it will help clean up pollution for kids with asthma, especially for those who aren’t able to move to an area with healthier air.
The good news is that we have solutions. The Clean Power Plan provides states with tools to develop and start their own targeted plans to lower carbon pollution. States do not have to wait for the courts. They can choose the best strategies to meet their targets and transition to clean energy technology.
Transitioning to solar energy, wind energy or other non-combustible energy sources will allow the country to continue to power our homes and businesses with far less of the pollution that harms the health of our families and neighbors. These changes would result in immediate health benefits now and for future generations.
The health benefits of the Clean Power Plan also translate to major economic savings. According to the EPA, once the plan is in place, we will see up to $54 billion in economic and health benefits in 2030. Best of all, Americans will benefit directly as the cleaner air from these improvements will prevent as many as 3,600 premature deaths and up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children that same year.
Record heat, floods and fires all make evident the urgent need to act now. As the D.C. Circuit Court prepares to hear this case, I urge governors and legislators across the country to develop and put in place the Clean Power Plan for each state. Use the tools placed in your hands to clean up the air we breathe today and in the future. All Americans – regardless of where they live – deserve to breathe healthy air.