A proposal to roll back regulations on carbon emissions from power plants would harm the health of children, elderly people, patients with chronic disease and high-risk populations, the AAFP recently warned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The AAFP sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt(2 page PDF) on April 25 in response to the agency's call for public comment on the proposal, published Feb. 1 in the Federal Register.(www.gpo.gov) The agency is considering repeal of the Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources, commonly called the Clean Power Plan.
Access to clean air is one of the social determinants of health, the AAFP said in the letter, which was signed by AAFP Board Chair John Meigs, M.D., of Centreville, Ala.
"As physicians, we treat patients who are impacted by the excessive heat and poor air quality associated with excessive carbon pollution," the letter stated. "We understand that vulnerable populations are more likely to experience the negative health effects of air pollution, which may increase if the Clean Power Plan is repealed."
The letter described some of the health outcomes that could be expected to follow repeal, including worsened chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, exacerbated asthma conditions and new cases of asthma. Even short-term exposure to air pollution can lead to greater risk of stroke, heart attack, arrhythmia and heart failure, and -- for Medicare beneficiaries -- increased risk of death.
Certain populations would be hit especially hard, the AAFP warned. Children, for example, are at greater risk for hospitalization because they spend more time outside and are less likely to report respiratory symptoms. African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than non-Hispanic white Americans to live near coal-fired power plants or in areas with unhealthy ozone levels.
The EPA's proposal would cause more widespread harm, too, by increasing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
"Climate change is an urgent public health issue with unprecedented ramifications associated with mental health, vector-borne illness, healthy respiration, temperature-related death and illness, food safety and maldistribution, and water-related deaths and illnesses," the AAFP wrote.
The Academy reminded the EPA of the AAFP's longstanding work -- stretching back to policy adopted in 1969 -- to reduce adverse health consequences by championing clean air, land and water. Preserving the Clean Power Plan makes that vital work easier.
"Repealing the Clean Power Plan would further contribute to preventable death of Americans," the Academy wrote. "The AAFP strongly urges the EPA to refrain from repealing the Clean Power Plan and continue with its implementation to keep Americans and others healthy for generations to come."
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