Media Are Overlooking Public Health, The Biggest “Winner” From EPA's Clean Power Plan

Asthma-Free School Zone

There has been a lot of media discussion lately about the “winners and losers” from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will fight climate change by placing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. But with all of their focus on the political, financial, and legal ramifications of the carbon pollution standards, reporters are frequently overlooking the biggest winner of all: public health, particularly that of children, seniors, low-Income communities, people of color, and anyone with heart or lung disease.

As the American Lung Association (ALA) has put it, the Clean Power Plan “will directly save lives.” The EPA estimates that its plan will result in up to 3,600 fewer premature deaths every year -- not to mention 90,000 fewer asthma attacks and 1,700 fewer heart attacks -- once it is fully implemented in 2030.

But the landmark policy will be even more important for certain communities that are particularly vulnerable to air pollution and the effects of climate change. According to the ALA, those most at risk include “infants, children, older adults, people with lung disease, people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works outdoors.” These Americans face some of the greatest risks associated with unchecked climate change, such as worsened ozone and soot pollution.

People of color are also disproportionately impacted by climate change, as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Green for All Executive Director Nikki Silvestri have explained. According to a report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), nearly three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. The NAACP has also noted that African-Americans, who are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas, are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that African-Americans are three times more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes.

Similarly, Latinos are 60 percent more likely than whites to go to the hospital for asthma and 40 percent more likely than whites to die from asthma, according to HHS. Meanwhile, the 2014 National Climate Assessment stated that new Hispanic immigrants are particularly “vulnerable to changes in climate,” due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are “critical obstacles to managing climate risk.”

For all these reasons and more, the Clean Power Plan will help address what the Natural Resources Defense Council calls “the disproportionate health impacts of dirty, coal-fired power generation on low-income communities and people of color.”

So while there will be plenty of time to discuss whether cap-and-trade programs or climate science denial are politically "toxic," there should also be room in the conversation for the role the Clean Power Plan will play in making the air we breathe cleaner and safer.

Image at top via Flickr user Mike Licht using a Creative Commons License.