President Obama has made little headway with Republicans and utilities in selling his tough new carbon emission standards as essential to combating climate change.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other GOP lawmakers are waging war against the proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the courts and in state capitals across the country – warning that Obama’s policy would shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, eliminate thousands of jobs and drive up electricity costs.
In a new tactic in his drive to combat global warming, Obama has shifted focus to the relationship between climate change and a mounting public health crisis that is costing the country tens of billions of dollars a year in medical costs and lost productivity.
The administration got a big boost to its new focus on public health on Monday with the publication of a new study by Harvard and Syracuse University scientists showing that Obama’s proposed curbs on coal burning power plants could prevent about 3,500 premature deaths a year, primarily from respiratory disease.
The study, published in Nature Climate Change, used modeling to predict the impact on human health of changes to national carbon standards for coal-fired power plants. The scientists considered three different outcomes by manipulating data from the Census Bureau and maps of the more than 2,400 fossil-fuel power plants across the country.
They concluded that the model with the biggest public health benefits was one that most closely resembled the new Obama administration policy. “The results underscore that carbon standards to curb global climate change can also provide immediate local and regional health co-benefits,” wrote Charles T. Driscoll, a professor of environmental systems engineer and the lead author of the study. “But the magnitude depends on the design of the standard.”
Apart from preventing several thousand premature deaths each year, implementation of the new EPA emission standards would prevent more than 1,000 heart attacks and hospitalization from air-pollution-related illness, the study said.
The Obama “Clean Power Plan” is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The largest decreases in pollution would occur in the eastern United States, particularly around the Ohio River Valley, according to the study.
“We know climate change will put vulnerable populations at greater risk – including the elderly, our kids, and people already suffering from burdensome allergies, asthma, and other illnesses,” the White House said recently in a fact sheet. “Pre-existing health conditions make older adults susceptible to the cardiac and respiratory impacts of air pollution. Higher rates of diabetes, obesity, or asthma in some communities may place them at greater risk of climate-related health impacts.”
According to the American Lung Association, the annual direct healthcare cost of asthma alone is approximately $50.1 billion. Indirect costs, such as lost productivity, add an additional $5.9 billion, for a total of $56billion dollars.
Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an energy-industry group, suggested that the new study overstated the beneficial impact of the new EPA rule because the reductions would bring emission levels far below what the EPA had previously said could harm human health, according to The New York Times.
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