PHI Responds to President’s Climate Action Announcement

by Jennifer Miller, PhD

Last week the President released his Climate Action Plan, in a speech at Georgetown University in which he emphasized the profound threat that climate change poses to human health.

The Public Health Institute welcomed the plan, as an important step toward addressing that threat, noting that “Climate change has already caused illness, injury and death in communities throughout the U.S. and around the world.” Globally, PHI’s Vice President for Public Health Policy & Advocacy Matthew Marsom continues, “women and children suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change,” while “poverty at home and abroad leaves people without the resources to adapt.”

The Plan rightly notes the urgency of acting to protect the public’s health, and maps out strategies on multiple fronts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to prepare cities and health systems to be more resilient in the face of climate change that is already locked in, and to engage in global negotiations and collaboration to address the challenge.

As the health impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent in the U.S. and abroad, the window of opportunity is closing. At the same time, many actions to prevent climate change not only protect health in the long term, but also offer immediate co-benefits to health, as PHI’s Dr. Linda Rudolph emphasizes in an editorial published this week in the Sacramento Bee in response to the Administration’s Plan.

A key pillar of the Plan instructs the Environmental Protection Agency to implement regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants, the top U.S. source of carbon dioxide emissions. Pollution from coal power plants is responsible for more than 13,000 premature deaths, 20,000 heart attacks, and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks each year in the U.S., at a cost of more than $100 billion per year. Regulating coal power plant emissions would offer immediate health relief to hundreds of thousands Americans, and would produce major health cost savings.

Though the Plan if fully and swiftly implemented promises to mitigate climate change, help U.S. communities adapt, and provide many immediate co-benefits to health along the way, it is not a substitute for comprehensive Congressional action.

We welcome the Climate Action Plan. We applaud those leaders in Congress (and elsewhere) who have boldly championed action on climate change. And we continue to call upon Congress to pass legislation that will reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, build climate resilient communities and a climate ready public health infrastructure, and to support U.S. leadership and engagement in global action to address climate change.

The Plan is a good start. And the threat to health of climate change demands more.

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