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Clean energy is about keeping people healthy

It’s time to push the clean energy debate out of the political corridors and refocus on benefits for human health.

It’s time to push the clean energy debate out of the political corridors and refocus on benefits for human health. To health professionals in Minnesota, clean energy is about more than wind turbines and solar panels, power grids and utility lines, solar gardens and energy conservation.

Bruce Snyder

Through our eyes, clean energy is about our children who suffer with asthma, our friends with allergies who love to jog outdoors, and our parents with lung disorders who find it hard to breathe when venturing out of their homes. New clean energy technologies are about keeping people healthy – at work, school and sports and out of Emergency Rooms.

That’s why members of Minnesota’s health care community stand united in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and the positive effect implementation of the plan will have on the health of all Minnesotans. That’s why last November, Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, working with Allina Health, Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation, and partners from the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center, created a first-in-the-nation interprofessional continuing education course entitled “Climate Change and Public Health,” a full-day event attended by more than 100 health professionals.

Teddie Potter

And that’s why on March 14, the group delivered a letter, [PDF] signed by more than 125 health care professionals — including physicians, nurses, public health professionals and students, and numerous professional organizations — to Minnesota’s state senators and representatives to call their attention to important opportunities to improve health outcomes and reduce the costs of health care in Minnesota that are a sometimes overlooked benefit of the Clean Power Plan. The organizations signing the letter include the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, whose members represent 80 percent of the state’s Family Physicians; Minnesota Organization of Registered Nurses; Twin Cities Medical Society; American Lung Association in Minnesota; and others.

These signatories, from throughout the Twin Cities Metro, Duluth, St. Cloud, Rochester, New Ulm, Bemidji and Alexandria, urged legislators to support the work of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in developing our state’s plan to implement the Clean Power Plan. In addition, Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate urged legislators to enhance the Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard, increasing the goal to 40 percent renewables by 2030, and increasing the Minnesota Energy Efficiency Standard from 1.5 percent to 2 percent. As a related economic benefit, the existing standards have so far grown more than 15,000 well paying clean energy jobs in Minnesota.

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There is extensive documentation that carbon dioxide emissions from coal burned for electricity are increasing global warming, a process that is already damaging Minnesota’s forests, lakes and wildlife, contributing to expensive and dangerous weather extremes, and exacerbating the spread of infectious diseases. Burning coal is also responsible for the emission of dangerous pollutants – nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, mercury and volatile organic compounds – into our air and waters, increasing the risks and costs of heart and lung disease, heat-related illnesses, allergies and asthma. According to the American Lung Association, a strong Clean Power Plan can prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks, 1,700 heart attacks, up to 3,600 premature deaths, and 300,000 missed work and school days across the country.

The MPCA’s work will result in a plan designed to meet the standards of the national Clean Power Plan and cost-effectively reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants. Minnesota is currently on track to meet its Clean Power Plan carbon reduction goals by virtue of bipartisan policies already in law. The declining costs of renewable energy help make the Clean Power Plan well within reach. And reducing our energy demand and wasteful use is the most cost-effective means of lowering emissions and meeting state obligations under the Clean Power Plan. These measures will enhance the health and safety of all Minnesotans while adding more new jobs to a burgeoning clean energy industry. It’s vital that our legislators take decisive action to secure a safe clean energy future for our state.

Bruce Snyder, M.D., FAAN, is a resident of Mendota Heights. Teddie Potter, Ph.D., MS, RN, FAAN, lives in St. Paul.

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