Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt claimed the move will correct what he sees as an executive overreach of authority, but Paul Billings, national senior vice president of the American Lung Association, said rolling back protections will keep millions of Americans exposed to dangerous pollutants and derail the nation’s efforts to slow climate change.
“When EPA finalized the rule in 2015,” he said, “they estimated the rule would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths a year and 90,000 asthma attacks in children, in addition to addressing the leading cause of climate change.”
Pruitt has downplayed health concerns and emphasized new calculations on the costs of complying with the plan. It aimed to reduce carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Dr. Elena Rios, president and chief executive of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said the government’s number one responsibility from a public-health perspective is to help all people. She said she worries that rolling back pollution standards will disproportionately affect poor families and communities of color living in the shadows of coal-fired smokestacks.
“Decreasing the carbon content in our air quality in major cities, or in areas and neighborhoods that are around these power plants, there would be direct impact on the health of the community,” she said.
Billings said Tennesseans – and people around the world – already are experiencing the effects of climate change, through more severe storms, wildfires and prolonged drought.
“We’re also experiencing unhealthy air-pollution days, both ozone and particle pollution. These high air-pollution days can lead to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath in healthy adults, but can cause asthma attacks and sadly, even premature death.”
Tuesday’s order will be open to public comment. Previously, more than 8 million people sent comments in support of the plan, setting a federal record. Environmental groups and some states are expected to mount a legal challenge to keep the plan in place. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court told the EPA to regulate carbon as an air pollutant if emissions put public health at risk.
The EPA proposal is online at epa.gov.