How Obama's carbon plan would affect America's health

Reducing emissions could reduce ED visits, health experts say

Health groups are hailing President Obama's recent proposal to decrease carbon emissions by 30% by 2030, saying that the move could dramatically improve the health of millions of Americans.

The 645-page plan, proposed Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), targets more than 600 coal-fired power plants as the biggest source of carbon pollution, and therefore, a large contributor to climate change.

Experts: Less pollution = fewer health problems

"Today climate change that is fueled by carbon pollution is supercharging risks not just to our health but to our communities, to our economy, and to our way of life," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said during a press conference Monday. She added, "Rising temperatures bring more smog, more asthma, and longer allergy seasons… we have a moral obligation to act on climate change."

Climate changes are bringing more allergies, asthma

According to CDC, air pollution has been linked to health issues that land Americans in the ED, such as breathing problems, cardiovascular diseases, low birth weight, decreased lung growth in children, and lung cancer. McCarthy argues that implementing the proposed rules "will result in lower medical bills, fewer trips to the [ED], especially for those kids who have asthma, our elderly, and our infirmed."

How clean is the air you breathe? The nation's most polluted cities

According to American Lung Association (ALA) President Harold Wimmer, the proposal could in its first year prevent:

  • Up to 4,000 premature deaths; and
  • 100,000 asthma attacks.

By 2030, Wimmer says the rules could prevent:

  • Up to 6,600 premature deaths; and
  • 150,000 asthma attacks.

"Cleaning up carbon pollution will have an immediate, positive impact on public health—particularly for those who suffer from chronic diseases like asthma, heart disease, or diabetes," Wimmer argues.

Study: Air pollution causes more than two million deaths annually

Critics: Plan could cost over $50B annually

While the EPA says the rules would cut electricity bills by about 8% by promoting energy efficiency, critics counter that the rule could "cost America's economy over $50 billion a year between now and 2030," according to data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Our analysis shows that Americans will pay significantly more for electricity, see slower economic growth, and fewer jobs, and have less disposable income, while a slight reduction in carbon emissions will be overwhelmed by global increases," says Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy.  

The EPA says it will accept comments on the proposal for 120 days after it is published in Federal Register and finalize the rule possibly by next June (Reinberg, HealthDay, 6/2; Grunwald, TIME, 6/1).

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