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Clean Power Plan would protect health

Dr. Mitchell Gershten

The Clean Power Plan, likely finalized this summer by the Environmental Protection Agency, is a critically necessary and vital set of rules that if implemented could significantly reduce dangerous carbon emissions. As a physician, I strongly support efforts to reduce the incidence of any human disease directly linked to human polluting activities. Carbon pollution from power plants is not only a leading contributor to the human-generated greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, but is also a real public health threat.

The EPA rule could reduce carbon emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030, resulting in less pollution and avoiding an anticipated:

• 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

• 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

• 340 to 3,300 heart attacks.

• 2,700 to 2,800 hospital admissions.

• 470,000 to 490,000 missed school and work days.

A recent article in the Stanford Report summed up the risk: “While it has long been known that carbon dioxide emissions contribute to climate change, the new study details how for each increase of 1 degree Celsius caused by carbon dioxide, the resulting air pollution would lead annually to about a thousand additional deaths and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma in the United States, according to the paper by Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.”

The Clean Power Plan rule will lead to the reduction of these pollutants by at least:

• 54,000 tons of PM2.5 (a dangerous type of fine particulate matter).

• 424,000 tons of sulfur dioxide.

• 407,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide.

Developed under the authority of the Clean Air Act, as amended by Congress during the George H.W. Bush administration, the Clean Power Plan gives states the authority to develop individual strategies for implementing the national goals of the rule with a 15-year time frame to complete them. Colorado can develop its own mixture of solutions and innovations to meet the goals set by the rules, solutions that make sense and are tailored specifically to Colorado and our communities.

Predictably those that benefit most from the status quo — polluting industries and big utility companies — are complaining the loudest about the Clean Power Plan. They are leaning on their allies in Congress, many flush with campaign contributions from these same interests, to weaken or try to block the rule. Yielding to these special interests by failing to implement the protective strategies mandated by the Clean Power Plan would be bad for America and bad for Colorado.

In contradiction to industry complaints, this Clean Power Plan will stimulate important changes. First, it will spur innovation in new energy and efficiency technologies, advancements that are both needed, expected, and which will benefit the nation and world, and on which Colorado is already uniquely poised to lead. We can create a new energy future with strong profit centers right here in Colorado. Many experts insist we must do just that, and the Clean Power Plan provides even more incentive to do so.

Second, the Clean Power Plan takes an important and historic step toward reducing our contribution to climate change. Colorado has already made real strides toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and doing our part to address climate change. It is time for America to be in front on this critical global issue. Again Colorado can be the beacon that leads the way.

And finally, from the perspective of a health care professional, the Clean Power Plan — by reducing carbon pollution from America’s power plants — will lead to direct health benefits for millions of vulnerable Americans, including many Coloradans. Healthier Americans save money for the nation and for families by reducing health care costs and potentially health care insurance premiums. According to the EPA: “From the soot and smog reductions alone, for every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan, American families will see up to $7 in health benefits.” A 700 percent return on investment in well worth consideration.

The Clean Power Plan is a critical step toward a more balanced and cleaner energy future. Colorado’s senators should not give in to special interests that want to gut the rule so they can keep polluting, and should rather work to see the Clean Power Plan enacted. That would benefit the planet and nation, and provide for both Colorado innovation and healthier Coloradans.

Dr. Gershten, a Grand Junction internist working in a hospital setting, has long been committed to a clean, sustainable environment that supports biological diversity. He feels strongly that the costs of resource acquisition and use should be transparent, and included up front in all market calculations and pricing. He believes that absent strong, enforceable environmental protections, the human experiment is likely to fail.


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