ENVIRONMENT

Why Doctors Are Backing Obama's Climate Plan

“We've seen our patients suffer and we recognize that something must be done about carbon pollution."

Doctors are backing the Obama administration's effort to curb carbon emissions in order to slow climate change, which new evidence shows could seriously threaten Americans' health

In fact, climate change could cause 11,000 additional premature deaths in the U.S. by 2030, according to a new report from federal agencies. 

Last week, several major American medical organizations filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. in support of the Environmental Protection Agency's embattled Clean Power Plan

The Plan, which several groups have challenged in court, would require the U.S. to slash carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030. It is Obama's signature climate change proposal and a cornerstone of U.S. efforts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels -- the acceptable warming level outlined by world leaders at December's climate talks in Paris.

“The CPP is by far the EPA’s most ambitious [greenhouse gas] emission control initiative to date,” Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post.

In their filing, medical organizations -- including The American Thoracic Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association -- sought to shine a spotlight on the negative health effects of climate change.

“We've seen our patients suffer and we recognize that something must be done about carbon pollution," Mary Rice, vice-chair of the Environmental Health Policy Committee at the American Thoracic Society, told reporters in a conference call last week. 

Climate change is linked to respiratory illness, allergies, diarrheal disease and cardiovascular disease -- all of which disproportionately affect children, the elderly and other underserved populations, said medical professionals on the conference call. 

"More than 88 percent of the existing burden of disease attributed to climate change occurs in children under 5 years old,” Jennifer Lowry, chair of the Council on Environmental Health at the American Academy of Pediatrics, told reporters, citing a World Health Organization report.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked implementation of the Clean Power Plan so the federal appeals court in D.C. could address challenges to the measure. The appeals court will hear oral arguments in the Clean Power Plan case, West Virginia v. EPA, on June 2. The key question in the case is whether or not the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. 

Regulators filed their first defense of the Clean Power Plan last week. Alongside that defense, medical, scientific, faith and conservation groups filed a total of 18 amicus briefs in support of the proposal. 

Medical organizations supporting the administration's climate plan don't want to see efforts to rein in carbon emissions derailed in the courts. 

“This is something that concerns us deeply as health care experts," Wright said. "Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is going to be key to solving health problems for the sake of our patients."

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