The Environmental Protection Agency says its rule to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants -- an average 30 percent reduction by 2030 for most states -- will not only cut greenhouse gases associated with global warming but will have a significant impact on public health as well.
Vapors spew from the smokestack at Sunflower Electric Cooperative's coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kansas. According to the EPA, Kansas' goal would be to cut emissions 23 percent by 2030. (AP/Charlie Riedel, File)
President Barack Obama, on a call sponsored by the public health groups, said that while the rule could have an impact as part of his Climate Action Plan in the distant future, its more immediate effects could happen "as we speak"
"Now, up until now there have been no national limits on the amount of carbon pollution that existing power plants can pump into the air. In contrast, we limit the amount of toxic chemicals, like mercury and sulfur and arsenic that power plants put into our air and water. And the essence of the plan that the EPA is presenting makes sure that we’re finally doing the same with carbon," Obama said.
"Since carbon emissions are a major contributor to climate change, and since power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution, these new standards are going to help us leave our children a safer and more stable world," he continued.
The EPA said the guidelines to cut carbon pollution will also reduce particulate matter in the air, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent. In doing so, it could help avoid more than 6,000 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks and nearly have a million missed work or school days, the EPA noted.
It's benefits like this that has parents of children suffering from severe asthma hailing the rule.
A mother described the hardship experienced by her 10-year-old son Parker Frey, who has been hospitalized at least once every year since being diagnosed with asthma at 6 months old.
"He’s a little boy who we cannot raise in a bubble," Frey's mother, who keeps asthma triggers out of her home as best she can, said.
"I do believe there will be immediate health benefits not just for Parker but for others like Parker," she continued.
These public health and climate benefits, according to the EPA, could equate to $93 billion saved.
In contrast though, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of energy companies, called this logic a "public health bait and switch." It noted a comment made at previous rulings on power plans that came with similar claims.
"Contrary to the EPA’s claim that the rule will provide particular benefits to children, the premature deaths the EPA says will be averted are modeled to accrue to people with an average age of 80 years, who would live weeks or months longer, if at all, as a result of the regulations," Susan Dudley, a professor of regulatory studies at George Washington University, said a few years ago, according to ERCC. "This modeling is also suspect, because the EPA assumes causality where none can be explained, and makes other assumptions that overstate effects."
The ERCC said the rule could increase energy costs, which it believes will impact performance of the health sector, and could thus "make public health worse."
Texas has to cut its carbon emission by 39 percent by 2030 under new federal requirements. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday the state has at least three years to develop a plan to reach the reductions. (AP/LM Otero, File)
Paul Billings, senior vice president of advocacy and education for the American Lung Association, laughed.
"I don’t buy it," Billings told TheBlaze, "particularly when we see every day the toll the air pollution takes on the public.
"I guess, nice try but not really. It's not a valid or salient argument and certainly the public wants and expects clean air that is healthier to breath. It's not going to buy into this economist’s double pocket," Billings said of the ERCC's argument against the rule's public health benefits. "And since air pollution from power plants actually worsens asthma and other breathing problems, putting these guidelines in place will help protect the health of vulnerable Americans, including children and the elderly.
Obama told the press Monday afternoon that the guidelines would have its critics, but he believes their claims will be debunked and companies and states will be able to use the plan's options to meet the standards as they see fit.
"When Americans are called on to innovate that’s what we do," he said.