OPINION: New standards to cut climate pollution could mean a healthier future for all

We are running out of time to reduce heat-trapping pollution at a pace that will avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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DTE Energy’s Monroe Power Plant, the second-largest coal-fired power plant in the United States. Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

The Biden administration recently released new standards to cut climate pollution from power plants. These plants are responsible for approximately a quarter of all climate pollution in the United States, so by capping how much carbon these plants release, the new standards will dramatically cut climate pollution overall. 

But the new standards, if finalized, will impact more than just climate change. Most Americans now recognize that climate change threatens the environment and our economy. But climate change’s impact on public health in America is less discussed, a topic I have studied closely as I train to become a physician at the University of Michigan.

The consensus among researchers is that whatever public health issues we face today, climate change will only amplify their impact. Climate change brings more severe heat waves and more heat-related illnesses and deaths. 

In the Midwest, stronger storms and more frequent flooding, like was seen here in Detroit during the summer of 2021, often lead to a spike in emergency visits from children suffering from gastrointestinal illness when flood water combines with sewage. 

Milder winters, conversely, mean that more disease-carrying ticks are surviving into the spring and summer months, and Lyme disease in Michigan is becoming more common.

Yet, in addition to what we can see in the data and what we can learn from the peer-reviewed research, there are the climate impacts we experience at a much more personal level. 

As a resident of Dearborn, I live in a community listed as among the most polluted cities in Michigan. The air quality in Dearborn is notoriously poor, a byproduct of pollution from cars and trucks, manufacturing facilities, and legacy fossil fuel plants. 

But as climate change worsens, so will the air pollution that Dearborn residents have to live with as warmer, moister air leads to more ground-level smog. It allows particulate matter to hang in the air longer than in drier/cooler conditions.

In addition to the obvious harmful effects that air pollution has on the respiratory system, such as asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway diseases, there are the less widely known but still very real impacts on the cardiovascular system, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke, as well as memory difficulties in older adults, and an increased incidence of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and stillbirth in the U.S.

If there is a chance to reverse these dangerous health issues, we should not hesitate to introduce protections against pollution that can save lives.

Some are rightfully concerned that the proposed standards might expand technologies that could extend the life of some fossil fuel plants –  like carbon capture and sequestration and co-firing with hydrogen at natural gas plants. While I share these concerns, I recognize that we are running out of time to reduce heat-trapping pollution at a pace that will avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

I applaud the EPA’s goals to reduce carbon pollution. Still, I also encourage the EPA to enact stringent testing methods to ensure that carbon pollution is reduced and that any new technology is implemented safely for neighboring communities, like my hometown of Dearborn. 

The EPA’s proposal leaves it up to states and sources to decide how to meet these new standards. They can install technology, run a plant less often, or switch from fossil fuels to pollution-free, clean energy sources like wind and solar. That’s the healthy future I want to see.

That is why I encourage you to contact your local members of Congress and ask them to support President Biden and the EPA as it implements this plan to cut climate pollution as quickly as possible. 

The sooner we enact strict and safe standards to cut pollution from power plants, the sooner we can secure a healthier future for millions across the country. Falling short would leave too many people, including my neighbors here in Dearborn, vulnerable to the harmful effects of power plant pollution. 

Let us hope that the release of these power plant standards marks a turning point in the fight against climate change and the fight for clean air. Michiganders should not have to worry whether the air they breathe will compromise their health, and we will all breathe much more quickly if these strong standards are finalized.


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