The White House is poised to unveil its final version of a plan to slash carbon emissions from existing power plants in what President Obama calls the "biggest, most important step we've ever taken" to fight climate change.
Scientists say that Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP) will help combat climate change while protecting the health of U.S. citizens.
Power plants account for nearly 40 percent of the country’s emission of carbon dioxide, which is the most common greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. But there has been no limit to how much carbon these plants could spew into the air Americans breathe.
The revised plan will require the power sector to cut carbon emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This aggressive new goal aims to reshape the nation's electricity infrastructure by shifting the nation from fossil fuels toward renewable energies like wind and solar.
The American Lung Association (ALA) strongly supports the new standards; it says that in 2030 the reductions are estimated to prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 sick days at work and school.
Lyndsay Moseley, director of ALA’s Healthy Air Campaign, said that degraded air quality, wild fires, heat waves and many other consequences of air pollution strongly affect lung health.
Breathing clean air, she said, is essential to life, and the CPP will provide protection for some of the most vulnerable Americans.
“There are certain populations that are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change and air pollution: children, older adults, people who live with asthma or other chronic diseases, and people with low incomes,” she said in an interview with Yahoo News.
In a statement, Harold Wimmer, the national president and CEO of the organization, reiterated the importance of minimizing the release of toxins into the air for fighting illness.
“The final plan, as described, reflects the progress we as a nation are making to reduce pollution from power plants and marks a tremendous step forward in the fight against climate change,” Wimmer said. “The American Lung Association will work with states to maximize the immediate health benefits from power plant cleanup.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is required to regulate pollutants by the Clean Air Act, says the health and climate benefits far outweigh the cost of the plan.
“These reductions will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030,” the EPA said on its official site.
In the past, public health and medical professionals have written open letters to the EPA opining that the health impacts of climate change are often overlooked.
Medical doctors have been pushing for the EPA to enact strict limits on power plants for years.
"These common sense clean air safeguards will improve the quality of our air, protect public health and help move our country toward cleaner energy technologies that won't make people sick or cut short our patients' lives," reads one such letter.
In May, researchers at Harvard University's school of public health released the results of the first independent, peer-reviewed paper looking into the potential immediate health benefits of the CPP.
By analyzing three options for power plant standards, the Harvard team discovered that the best choice would prevent an average of 3,500 premature deaths throughout the nation annually — ranging from 780 to 6,100 each year.
The top option, they said, would also prevent a thousand heart attacks and hospitalizations from air pollution each year.
“If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented,” Jonathan Buonocore, research fellow and co-author of the paper, said in a release.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a national trade group for that sector, praised the “historic” and “critically needed” plan, while encouraging states to invest in solar energy as a low-cost and carbon-free way to meet its goals.
Rhone Resch, the president and CEO of SEIA, says that the U.S. has been able to create more than 150,000 new solar jobs in the last decade alone because of the technology’s reliability and affordability.
“As a nation, it is time to replace our aging, dirty energy infrastructure with clean, reliable 21st century energy technologies, like solar. And as an industry, we look forward to solar helping states achieve an optimal long-term strategy for their economy and environment,” Resch said in a statement Sunday.
By the close of 2016, he said, nearly 45 million metric tons of carbon emissions will be offset by the amount of solar energy in the country, enough to power 8 million houses.
The National Mining Association (NMA), a trade group for that industry, on the other hand, called the plan an act of political expedience rather than a realistic attempt to provide the nation with affordable energy.
Hal Quinn, the association’s president and CEO, encouraged the country’s governors to reject the EPA’s authority and challenge its “flawed plan.”
“NMA filed a request today with EPA to stay the rule while the courts have the opportunity to determine the lawfulness of the agency’s attempt to commandeer the nation’s electric grid. If EPA denies our request, we will ask the courts to do so," he said.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush released a statement saying that Obama’s plan is “irresponsible and overreaching.”
“The rule runs over state governments, will throw countless people out of work and increases everyone’s energy prices,” it reads in part.
But on Friday, 365 businesses and investors, including industry giants like General Mills and Nestle, signed an open letter to 29 governors voicing their support for the plan that they say is “firmly grounded in economic reality” and will help the economy.