On the road, CEQ’s Sutley plays up health risks of carbon emissions

Source: John McArdle, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013

In promoting President Obama’s new Climate Action Plan during an event in Rhode Island this morning, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley warned that carbon emissions are as much a public health issue as an environmental one.

Joined by two local children with asthma whose outdoor activities are limited during the summer, Sutley told the audience that “as their experiences demonstrate, climate change poses a very real threat to public health — both now and in the future,” according to excerpts provided by the White House.

“Already, the nation’s asthma rates have doubled over the past 30 years,” she said. “The warmer temperatures spurred by carbon pollution can worsen smog, soot and pollen levels, triggering more asthma attacks.”

And she warned of other health risks including prolonged allergy seasons, increased heat-related illnesses and changes in the life cycle and distribution of insects that transmit disease.

“Modernizing our power plants by equipping them with the latest technology to reduce carbon emissions will improve our health, make sure America remains competitive with other countries and help move our economy towards cleaner, more efficient forms of energy,” she said.

This August, that trifecta of benefits is being touted in communities around the country in a series of events keynoted by key administration officials and congressional supporters. The effort is designed to build momentum for the president’s new climate effort.

Sutley’s road trip today — which also includes a stop in Hartford, Conn., later this afternoon — coincides with an appearance today by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in Boulder, Colo.

Meanwhile, local and national advocacy groups along with the Climate Action Coalition have launched a 27-state bus tour designed to highlight the impacts of climate change and call for local action. According to the website set up to promote the tour, events will also be held later this week in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey.

The Climate Action Plan centers on restricting carbon emissions from new and existing power plants.

Congressional Republicans have blasted the proposal as another effort by the Obama administration to wage a “war on coal” that will drastically increase energy prices, stifle job creation and make U.S. businesses less competitive.

But Sutley today tried to demonstrate what the new emission standards could mean for the local community.

“In Rhode Island, power plants and major industrial facilities emitted more than 4 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2011 — that’s equal to the yearly pollution from more than 840,000 cars,” she said.

She also pointed out that in 2012 the costs of weather disasters in the United States exceeded $110 billion.

“Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of these kinds of events — as well as the costs and public health impacts associated with them,” she said. “The president’s plan focuses on partnering with communities like Providence to prepare for these impacts by investing in stronger and safer infrastructure, protecting critical sectors of our economy and our natural resources, and equipping local decisionmakers with the best climate tools and science.”

Sutley was joined at this morning’s event by three Rhode Island Democrats — Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Jim Langevin — and by Curt Spalding, EPA’s Region 1 administrator.

“Rhode Island has been on the leading edge of climate change abatement and mitigation initiatives, strengthening the resiliency of our communities and spurring growth in the green economy,” Langevin said this morning.

“We here in the Ocean State saw the signs earlier than most, from beach erosion and impacts on our ocean economy to storm damage, increased asthma rates and catastrophic flooding. … We recognize that there is no one solution to climate change; our responses must be as diverse as the threat. The administration took this same approach in developing its Climate Action Plan, setting goals to curb carbon pollution, direct new federal funds to advance renewable energy technology, as well as funding to fortify our cities and states against storms and droughts.”

This afternoon’s event is scheduled to include Sutley, Spalding, and Connecticut Democrats including Gov. Dannel Malloy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and state Sen. John Fonfara.