By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

America’s public health leaders have raised their voices against Congressional waffling over climate action, releasing a letter today signed by 120 top public health groups that urges Congress not to interfere with the EPA’s plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA’s mandate to regulate carbon emissions has been a lightning rod in Washington, with some in Congress saying the agency does not have the authority to set carbon guidelines and penalize violators. States, such as Texas, have sued over the issue, also trying to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

But the EPA and the U.S. Supreme Court have said that the agency does have the right to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Now, public health leaders are saying it’s time to move forward. The Clean Air Act was passed to allow the EPA to “make the air cleaner,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “If you look at the history and the history in practice…There’s no question that’s the intent.”

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the APHA

Speaking at a news conference, Dr. Benjamin, and other public health leaders said the health effects caused by climate change are too urgent, and too devastating, to ignore.

“Climate change will affect and is affecting every single child on earth,” said Dr. Jerome A. Paulson, a member of American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, and co-director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Deterioriating air quality caused by carbon pollution means that children will experience reduced lung development and increased bronchitis and asthma, Paulson said. Other climate-related health effects will come from infectious diseases, the mental stress of relocation caused by storms and from food shortages. The young, poor and chronically ill will be most affected.

Nurses already see children and adults affected by worsening air quality every day, said Nancy Hughes, director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, American Nurses Association . Climate change is adding to that problem, affecting the health of children and the elderly especially, as natural disasters increase, temperatures rise and mosquito-born diseases like West Nile spread into new territory.

“The list goes on and on,” she said. ““There’s great concern about the toll climate change takes on vulnerable populations.”

The letter from the public health associations urges Congress to “recognize the threat to public health posed by climate change and to support measures that will reduce these risks and strengthen the ability of our local, state and federal public health agencies to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change.”

It is signed by the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Lung Association (ALA), several other national organizations and 66 state-level health groups and experts in 36 states. The states represented include California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The message to Congress explains that heat waves, floods, droughts, infectious diseases and other climate-related events affect public health; and in order to reduce the threat, the nation must address the root causes of climate change.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting the public’s health from climate change, and we urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling its responsibilities. We also urge opposition to any efforts to weaken, delay or block the EPA from protecting the public’s health from these risks.”

The groups felt compelled to send the letter because of the efforts by climate skeptics and those opposed to carbon pollution regulation to weaken or dilute the EPA’s authority, Dr. Benjamin said.

Public health leaders see the debate over the costs of regulation as ignoring the public health costs and consequences. “It’s a pay now or pay later situation,” Dr. Benjamin said.

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