Curbing carbon pollution

Smoke rises from an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, Texas.
Smoke rises from an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, Texas.

Laura Turner Seydel is founder, and Susan Berryman-Rodriguez is project director, of Mothers and Others for Clean Air, a program of the American Lung Association in Georgia.

We all understand that cleaner, healthier air is better for us. No one knows that better than Starr Braswell, a young mother from Douglasville. Her 2-year-old son suffers from severe asthma, has visited the emergency room more than 60 times and has been hospitalized 13 times.

We have a moral imperative to protect our children from harm. Now that the World Health Organization recently classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic, our obligation to make sure our children breathe clean, healthy air is more important than ever.

A good starting point is to establish limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Power plants are the largest stationary source of greenhouse gases in the U.S, and production of electricity represents 38 percent of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Science clearly shows that carbon pollution contributes to rising temperatures that will increase the risk of elevated ozone pollution. Ozone is a highly reactive gas and most likely to occur during Atlanta’s hot summer months.

Currently in the U.S., millions of children have asthma attacks every year, and ozone smog pollution is a well-known trigger. Any increases in smog will mean more childhood asthma attacks and complications for those with lung disease. When someone breathes in ozone, it reacts chemically with the body’s internal tissues and causes inflammation, much like a sunburn of the lung. Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution because their lungs are still developing, and they often spend more time outdoors compared to adults.

According to a Georgia Department of Public Health 2010 report, children with asthma visited emergency rooms 25,930 times and were hospitalized 2,965 times. The direct cost for these emergency treatments and hospital stays totaled more than $60 million.

It is a “false choice” touted by industry opponents that we must choose between public health and a strong economy. And the public agrees. According to a 2012 American Lung Association poll, nearly three quarters of voters say that we do not have to choose between air quality and a strong economy; we can achieve both.

There are standards for toxics, acid gases, heavy metals and smog-forming and soot-forming emissions from power plants, and there should be standards for carbon pollution as well. The Clean Air Act is one of the nation’s most important public health laws, with a long history of success. With overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress granted EPA the authority to reduce air pollution to protect public health decades ago. This authority extends to carbon pollution.

The Supreme Court has affirmed this authority multiple times. In proposing strong limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, EPA will be fulfilling the mission of the Clean Air Act: protecting the public from air pollution that endangers health.

Mothers and Others for Clean Air urges that the EPA issue strong, final standards that limit carbon pollution to protect the health and welfare of Americans, improve efficiency, create more jobs through innovation, and build a strong economy. We must protect the health of our children and others now. Join us in our fight for healthy air.