LETTER: Support Carbon Limits on Power Plants

By Beacon Staff

Recently, Gov. Steve Bullock received a letter signed by more than 50 Montana health professionals from across the state. The letter asks Bullock and his administration to strongly support proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

The reasons are simple: Discharge of toxins and carbon from coal burning plants are causing health problems and climate change, which also carries serious health impacts.

Currently, there are no limits on how much carbon power plants are allowed to emit. However, the Environmental Protection Agency, under the Clean Air Act, has proposed limits on such emissions from future power plants and is expected to propose limits on carbon pollution from existing plants in June.

The physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and others who signed the letter to Bullock understand how coal-burning plants are already worsening Montanans’ health. The public health will only worsen if we don’t take action to limit carbon pollution and slow climate change.

We also understand that the voice of industry and its allies is loud and strong, and there’s a danger of public health impacts being ignored or overshadowed by heated rhetoric. We can’t let that happen – Montana’s healthy future is too important.

Polluters have always resisted Clean Air Act rules, yet the Act’s 40-year history shows – time after time – that cleaning up our air and reducing toxic emissions saves lives and billions of dollars in health care spending. People want – and deserve – clean, healthy air.

In the case of coal burning plants, there are no limits at all on current carbon emissions. It’s essential to public health that we reduce the amount of carbon that goes into our air.

Carbon pollution and climate change are already having measurable impacts on health. Scientists have shown that the buildup of carbon pollution in our atmosphere creates higher temperatures, which has in turn increased the frequency exposure to ozone, unhealthy smog levels and extreme weather events, including more floods, drought and longer, more intense wildfire seasons.

In Montana we’ve witnessed the health impacts of larger and more frequent wildfires during recent years, with our pulmonologists seeing more children in respiratory distress due to smoky air. More wildfires are especially risky for children with asthma and older adults with COPD.

Higher levels of smog (ozone) also mean more adult and childhood asthma attacks and complications for those with lung disease. Children are more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution because their lungs are still developing, they breathe more air per pound of body weight and they often spend more time outdoors when compared to adults.

Others who are suffering health problems due to climate impacts include people struggling with heart disease, allergies, diabetes and obesity, as well as athletes and seniors.

According to a bipartisan survey by the American Lung Association, most voters support efforts to update our clean air protections. An astounding 72 percent of voters specifically want limits on power plant carbon pollution.

That same survey shows that 73 percent of voters don’t buy into industry’s “false choice” that we must choose between public health and a strong economy – we can achieve both. By a two-to-one majority, voters believe that strengthening safeguards against pollution will create, not destroy, jobs by encouraging innovation. The cost savings in terms of health care expenditures alone will make cleanup of toxic emissions financially feasible.

Reducing carbon pollution, coupled with steps being taken to cut other dangerous power plant pollution such as soot, mercury and other toxics, will protect public health, improve efficiency and encourage innovation.

As health care professionals who value our state’s clean, healthy air, and spend our careers safeguarding the health of people in Montana, we urge Governor Bullock and other state leaders to support the reduction of carbon pollution in Montana.

Dr. Paul Smith, Missoula
Dr. Colette Kirchhoff, Bozeman
Dr. Lori Byron, Hardin

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