June 2012

Spring, Asthma, and Climate Change and Power Plant Connection

and how regulating new power-plant emissions are part of the answer

Frances Beinecke


I love when spring comes to the Northeast, but this year, it arrived too soon. Temperatures in New York hit the high 80s in mid-April and the flowers in my yard were blooming weeks earlier than usual. These warmer days mean more smog will be trapped in the air, making it harder to breathe for asthma sufferers—like my son-in-law and millions of other Americans. More and more people are starting to see the link between unseasonably warm weather and climate change. A new poll conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities found that a large majority of Americans believe this year’s mild winter, last year’s scorching summer, and other extreme weather events are likely made worse by climate change.

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency is starting to confront these growing threats. In March the agency announced the first-ever national limits on the carbon pollution from new power plants. No longer will new electric plants be able to endanger our health with unchecked carbon pollution and the climate change it causes.

Instead, our nation can start creating a 21st century power fleet—one that uses the latest clean technologies. Members of the coal industry, however, complain that taking responsibility for their pollution will be too costly and require too much innovation. They would rather stay dirty than modernize, and they have fought the new carbon standard every step of the way.

Not only is choosing not to innovate bad business, in this case, it’s bad for our health. That’s why more than 70 percent of people support new standards for carbon pollution from power plants, according to a recent poll. They know it will help protect their families from a major health hazard.

From the American Lung Association to the National Hispanic Medical Association, experts agree the carbon standard will help protect the health of our families. Carbon pollution contributes to climate change, which causes temperatures to rise. Hotter temperatures mean more smog in the air, and breathing smog can inflame deep lung tissue. Repeated inflammation over time can permanently scar lung tissue, even in low concentrations.

The American Thoracic Society—the professional association of lung doctors—recently said climate change is especially dangerous for children and senior citizens because their lungs are more vulnerable to respiratory diseases caused by smog.

Smog pollution is also hazardous for people living with asthma, because it can trigger asthma attacks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 24.6 million Americans suffer from asthma—a 12 percent increase over the last decade. One in six African-American children has asthma, while Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups.

There are faces and families behind these statistics. Kim Crouch, a mother from Detroit, says she lives in fear of not being able to help her 12-year-old son when he has an asthma attack. He had his first attack on a field trip to the zoo and said, “It felt like getting pushed into a locker. I couldn’t feel my legs, I couldn’t feel my arms. I started to get dizzy. I felt like this was probably the last moment on Earth.” Kim said that when they rushed to the hospital, doctors told them “it was just a bad air day, and that’s why so many kids were there that day.” Carbon pollution contributes to these bad air days and it also intensifies heat waves—like the record temperatures we saw this spring. Some people enjoy an early blast of summer air, but when heat waves hit in July and August, they can be deadly.

A blistering heat wave that gripped California in 2006 was linked to 655 people’s deaths, 1,620 hospitalizations, and more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits—resulting in nearly $5.4 billion dollars in medical costs, according to a recent study by NRDC scientists and university economists looking at costs associated with six climate-change-related events in the last decade.

Americans are already paying the price for record heat waves, dirty air, and an unstable climate. We need to fight these threats with every weapon we have, and the electricity industry has to do its fair share. The new carbon standard will help make that happen. I urge you to write to the Environmental Protection Agency and tell them you support this effort to clean up our air and stabilize our climate.


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