Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the final rules for the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first large-scale effort to reduce carbon emissions from electric power generation. Here in Minnesota the plan drew generally good reviews, and several major utilities publicly expressed confidence that Minnesota could meet its pollution limits by the year 2030.
So what happens next?
The short answer is that public officials and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will work on a formal pathway and plan toward this goal. Utility leaders and electricity grid managers have been thinking about these rules since they were first proposed more than a year ago. They also will likely weigh in on the plan, as will environmental groups, green power companies, and many industries that require stable, affordable electricity.
While that sounds like all the parties needed to craft a sound and workable clean energy plan for Minnesota, it’s missing one group that could make the plan even better – health professionals. In a conference call hosted by the American Lung Association, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said: “Most people don’t realize that this is a public health issue.”
Lower pollution will lessen illness and premature deaths
A closer look at the Clean Power Plan underscores McCarthy’s point. Steps taken to reduce carbon pollution will have the co-benefit of significantly reducing primary air pollutants like particulates and ground-level ozone that we know are a risk to human health. These reductions are projected to prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 days of missed work and school.
A Minnesota Department of Health report recently estimated that air pollution is responsible for 2,000 premature deaths, 400 hospitalizations and 600 emergency room visits in the Twin Cities in a single year. As the health risks of climate change and traditional air pollutants become better understood, more health organizations are stepping up to support the Clean Power Plan.
Make sure health-sector voices are heard
Physicians, nurses, researchers and other health professionals need to have their voices heard as Minnesota decides how it will cut air pollution levels over the next 15 years. I urge any health care professionals interested in this issue to contact Jon Hunter with the American Lung Association in Minnesota so health is not overlooked.
As I’ve said before, climate change is a public health issue. If we act now, we can take the first steps toward cleaner air and healthier communities.
Robert Moffitt is the communication director for the American Lung Association in Minnesota.
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