Climate Change and Public Health
State Impact Center / September 23, 2020
The environmental impacts of climate change are well known: extreme weather, rising seas, and catastrophic wildfires, among others. Less appreciated is the climate change-caused health crisis. The intense heat, killer storms, and disease vectors spawned by climate change are taking a major human toll. Plus the primary cause of climate change—the burning of fossil fuels—generates dangerous levels of air pollution that cause asthma and other respiratory issues, while shortening lives. If robust action is not taken to mitigate the effects of climate change, these many adverse health consequences are expected to worsen, resulting in tens of thousands of additional people sick and lives lost, with disadvantaged communities hurt most of all.
Although overwhelming evidence points to the need for strong federal action to address climate change, the Trump administration has failed to set even the most basic nationwide standards to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than take action to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, this administration consistently ignores science and sides with industry, rolling back common sense regulations with no apparent regard for the consequences to public health and the environment. Thankfully, state attorneys general have stepped in to challenge the rollback of climate regulations and fight to protect human health and the environment from the ravages of climate change.
Health Effects of Climate Change
The consequences of climate change — including more frequent and intense severe weather, heat, drought and flooding extremes, changing patterns of vector-borne diseases, and threats to food and water security — can have significant impacts on public health. These impacts range from immediate threats to physical safety to long-term effects on mental health and societal wellbeing. As climate change intensifies, its impacts on public health are expected to persist for longer periods of time, occur at unprecedented times of the year, and expand into areas that have never experienced these threats before.(1)
Heat causes more deaths in the U.S. than any other weather-related hazard(2) — estimates suggest that approximately 12,000 Americans die of heat-related causes annually, and more than 80 percent of these victims are over 60 years old.(3) As humid heat extremes become more frequent due to climate change, scientists predict that related health impacts will increase accordingly, leading to tens of thousands of additional heat-related premature deaths every summer.(4) Common heat-related illnesses include heat stroke and exhaustion; heat stress can also cause or exacerbate cardiovascular and kidney problems.(5)
Extreme Weather Events
Extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change — including drought, heavy rainfall, floods, and intense hurricanes that feed off of warm ocean waters— cause death, injury, illness, worsening of underlying medical conditions, and adverse effects on mental health.(6) Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, for example, killed thousands of people in Houston and Puerto Rico, respectively.(7) As extreme weather events become more frequent and intense, these risks to public health are expected to worsen.
Chemical safety is a major public health concern at all times, but especially during extreme weather events. Extreme weather events can dislodge harmful chemicals from soil, homes, industrial waste sites and other sources, and disperse them into the air and water.(8) Excessive flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 led to multiple fires and explosions at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. More than 200 nearby residents were forced to evacuate and 21 emergency responders sought medical treatment after being exposed to the combusted chemicals.(9) An investigation of the disaster conducted by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board revealed that, although these types of severe weather events are becoming more intense and frequent, there is a significant lack of guidance in planning for flooding and other severe weather events in the chemical industry. (10)
After Hurricane Maria in 2017, researchers in Puerto Rico found elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a suspected carcinogen, in residents of a bayside town. The researchers hypothesized that PCBs from former industrial sites nearby washed into the bay and the surrounding area during the hurricane, exposing residents who survived the storm to PCB-contaminated fish and air.(11)
In Westlake, Louisiana, a fire at a chemical plant began when Hurricane Laura hit in 2020. The fire released smoke containing chlorine, nitrogen oxide, and other toxins that can be extremely dangerous when inhaled, leading authorities to shut down the interstate highway near the facility, issue stay-at-home orders for nearby residents, and instruct residents to close doors and windows to avoid inhaling the smoke.(12)
According to the Government Accountability Office, the effects of climate change pose a threat to 60 percent of the Superfund sites that are scattered across the U.S.(13) Particularly concerning for public health are the effects of flooding caused by hurricane storm surges and sea level rise, which can wash out and expose nearby residents to dangerous toxic substances. For example, floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey compromised the containment of hazardous chemicals at the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site in Houston, Texas. Floodwaters from Hurricane Irene in 2011 caused the release of the cancer-causing agent benzene beyond the protective barriers of the American Cyanamid Superfund site in New Jersey. Scientists predict that extreme coastal flooding caused by climate change will pose a risk to more than 900 Superfund sites within the next 20 years.(14)
Extreme weather events also exacerbate existing public health problems by disrupting critical health care systems and infrastructure. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, six hospitals and 26 residential care facilities in New York City were closed, and thousands of residents who are reliant on home nursing, personal care attendants, medical equipment, and refrigeration for maintaining medications were affected by flooding and loss of power.(15)
In Puerto Rico, researchers found that interruptions to the island’s medical care systems led to a sustained high mortality rate in the months following Hurricane Maria in 2017.(16) One week after the hurricane made landfall, only 11 of the island’s 69 hospitals had power or fuel, and six months after, one in 10 permanent health centers lacked consistent electricity.(17) The rapid increase in the number of health care workers leaving the island after the hurricane and a lack of funding at both the federal and local levels has prevented the island from rebuilding much of its health care infrastructure, even three years after the hurricane.(18)
As the planet warms, wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense worldwide. In the U.S., wildfires burned more than twice as much land area between 2000 and 2018 as they did between 1985 and 1999.(19) Wildfires not only present an immediate safety risk to local residents, but also threaten the health of more distant communities, even those thousands of miles away,(20) through exposure to harmful air pollutants found in wildfire smoke, which include particulate matter, ozone, and carbon monoxide.(21) Health effects associated with wildfire smoke range from minor eye, nose, and throat irritation to hospitalization and death from severe respiratory issues.(22)
As the planet warms, diseases carried by vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, are expected to become more widespread.(23) Climate change is altering the geographic range and prevalence of disease vectors that thrive in warm climates, exposing a growing portion of the U.S. population to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit West Nile, chikungunya, dengue, and Zika viruses.(24) Researchers have predicted that the number of cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. will rise an estimated 20 percent by mid-century.(25) Of 244 U.S. cities studied by a team of researchers at Stanford University, 94 percent have seen an increase in the number of “disease danger days” during which residents are at a heightened risk of contracting diseases spread by mosquitoes.(26)
The effects of climate change — including extreme weather, exposure to pathogens and pest infestations, and rising levels of carbon dioxide — pose a serious threat to food security in the U.S.(27) Floods, droughts, and storms can cause significant damage to crop fields and warmer temperatures can inhibit the growth of certain crops, including corn.(28) Scientists have predicted that U.S. corn production could fall by 18 percent by 2100 if global temperatures rise by 2°C — or worse, by 50 percent if global temperatures rise by 4°C.(29) High temperatures can also increase the risk of crops being exposed to pathogens and toxins that cause foodborne illnesses, and elevated levels of carbon dioxide can diminish the nutritional quality of food by reducing concentrations of dietary iron, zinc, protein, and other important nutrients. These impacts will disrupt food supply chains, reduce access to food, and increase food prices.(30)
High temperatures and heavy rainfall and flooding due to climate change pose a threat to water quality and security in the U.S. Warming water temperatures and increased stormwater runoff triggered by more frequent and intense rainfall can foster harmful algae blooms and introduce toxic pathogens to both recreational waters and drinking water.(31) Damage to aging water and sewage infrastructure caused by more severe storms and flooding also jeopardizes access to adequate clean drinking water. Just this summer, 3,700 gallons of sewage spilled into a river in North Carolina as a result of intense rain during Tropical Storm Isaias.(32) Researchers predict that by 2100, Chicago will experience a 50 to 120 percent increase in overflow events where stormwater drainage systems are overwhelmed and untreated sewage flows into neighboring water bodies.(33)
Climate change can have serious consequences for mental health. Weather-related disasters can cause a range of mental health issues, from short-term stress and increased alcohol and tobacco use, to chronic anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and suicide. The mere threat of climate impacts and related uncertainty can also contribute to anxiety and depression.(35) In addition, heat can affect mental health and cause mood changes and an increase in aggressive behavior.(36)
Mental health treatment after severe weather events and disasters is important to ensuring that these symptoms do not persist, but federal programs meant to aid survivors struggling with mental health issues only reach a fraction of those who need help. Since Hurricane Harvey in 2017, researchers found that 50 percent of Houston-area residents suffered from powerful or severe emotional distress, yet 70 percent of survivors reported they did not receive mental health treatment.(37) Mental health problems that go untreated can linger long after a disaster, as evidenced by a study conducted 12 years after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, which revealed that one in five low-income mothers affected by the storm still suffered from post-traumatic symptoms.(38)
Citations - Health Effects of Climate Change
1 - Allison Crimmins et al., Tʜᴇ Iᴍᴘᴀᴄᴛs ᴏꜰ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Cʜᴀɴɢᴇ ᴏɴ Hᴜᴍᴀɴ Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ Uɴɪᴛᴇᴅ Sᴛᴀᴛᴇs: A Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪꜰɪᴄ Assᴇssᴍᴇɴᴛ (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0R4...;
2 - Weather Related Fatality and Injury Statistics, Nᴀᴛɪᴏɴᴀʟ Wᴇᴀᴛʜᴇʀ Sᴇʀᴠɪᴄᴇ (2019), https://www.weather.gov/hazsta...;
3 - Seniors at Risk: Heat and Climate Change, Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Cᴇɴᴛʀᴀʟ (June 24, 2020), https://medialibrary.climatece...;
4 - Crimmins et al., supra note 1, at 45.
5 - Samantha Harrington, How climate change threatens public health, Yᴀʟᴇ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Cᴏɴɴᴇᴄᴛɪᴏɴs (Aug. 19, 2019), https://yaleclimateconnections...;
6 - Kristie L. Ebi et al., Human Health, in Iᴍᴘᴀᴄᴛs, Rɪsᴋs, ᴀɴᴅ Aᴅᴀᴘᴛᴀᴛɪᴏɴ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ Uɴɪᴛᴇᴅ Sᴛᴀᴛᴇs: Fᴏᴜʀᴛʜ Nᴀᴛɪᴏɴᴀʟ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Assᴇssᴍᴇɴᴛ, Vᴏʟᴜᴍᴇ II 14 (2018), https://nca2018.globalchange.g...;
7 - CNN Editorial Research, Hurricane Statistics Fast Facts, CNN (updated June 2, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2013/05/31....
8 - Christopher Flavelle, ‘Toxic Stew’ Stirred Up by Disasters Poses Long-Term Danger, New Findings Show, N.Y. Tɪᴍᴇs (July 15, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/0...;
9 - U.S. Cʜᴇᴍɪᴄᴀʟ Sᴀꜰᴇᴛʏ ᴀɴᴅ Hᴀᴢᴀʀᴅ Iɴᴠᴇsᴛɪɢᴀᴛɪᴏɴ Bᴏᴀʀᴅ, Exᴛʀᴇᴍᴇ Wᴇᴀᴛʜᴇʀ, Exᴛʀᴇᴍᴇ Cᴏɴsᴇǫᴜᴇɴᴄᴇs: CSB Iɴᴠᴇsᴛɪɢᴀᴛɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜᴇ Aʀᴋᴇᴍᴀ Cʀᴏsʙʏ Fᴀᴄɪʟɪᴛʏ ᴀɴᴅ Hᴜʀʀɪᴄᴀɴᴇ Hᴀʀᴠᴇʏ (2018), https://www.csb.gov/assets/1/2...;
10 - Extreme weather led to chem plant fire, hazmat release, Iɴᴅᴜsᴛʀɪᴀʟ Sᴀꜰᴇᴛʏ ᴀɴᴅ Hʏɢɪᴇɴᴇ Nᴇᴡs (May 29, 2018), https://www.ishn.com/articles/...;
11 - Flavelle, supra note 8.
12 - Nick Miroff, Hurricane Laura strikes Louisiana as Category 4 storm, battering Lake Charles area and bringing flood threat, Wᴀsʜ. Pᴏsᴛ (August 27, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com....
13 - Gᴏᴠᴇʀɴᴍᴇɴᴛ Aᴄᴄᴏᴜɴᴛᴀʙɪʟɪᴛʏ Oꜰꜰɪᴄᴇ, Sᴜᴘᴇʀꜰᴜɴᴅ: EPA Sʜᴏᴜʟᴅ Tᴀᴋᴇ Aᴅᴅɪᴛɪᴏɴᴀʟ Aᴄᴛɪᴏɴs ᴛᴏ Mᴀɴᴀɢᴇ Rɪsᴋs ꜰʀᴏᴍ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Cʜᴀɴɢᴇ (2019), https://www.gao.gov/assets/710....
14 - A Toxic Relationship: Extreme Coastal Flooding and Superfund Sites, Cᴇɴᴛᴇʀ ꜰᴏʀ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴄᴇ ᴀɴᴅ Dᴇᴍᴏᴄʀᴀᴄʏ ᴀᴛ ᴛʜᴇ Uɴɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴᴇᴅ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪsᴛs (2020), https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/d....
15 - Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy and Recommendations for Improved Healthcare and Public Health Response and Recovery for Future Catastrophic Events, Aᴍᴇʀɪᴄᴀɴ Cᴏʟʟᴇɢᴇ ᴏꜰ Eᴍᴇʀɢᴇɴᴄʏ Pʜʏsɪᴄɪᴀɴs (2015), https://www.acep.org/globalass....
16 - Nishant Kishore et al., Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, 379 N. Eɴɢʟ. J. Mᴇᴅ. 162 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMsa....
17 - Matt Kurht, Puerto Rico’s healthcare system slowly recovering 6 months after Hurricane Maria, Fɪᴇʀᴄᴇ Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜᴄᴀʀᴇ (Mar. 20, 2018), https://www.fiercehealthcare.c....
18 - Catherine Kim, A 13-year-old’s death highlights Puerto Rico’s post-Maria health care crisis, Vᴏx (Feb. 27, 2020), https://www.vox.com/identities....
19 - The Connection Between Climate Change and Wildfires, Uɴɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴᴇᴅ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪsᴛs, https://www.ucsusa.org/resourc... (last updated Mar. 11, 2020).
20 - See, Michael Kodas & Evelyn Nieves, The Fires May be in California, but the Smoke, and its Health Effects, Travel Across the Country, Iɴsɪᴅᴇ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Nᴇᴡs (Aug. 27, 2020), https://insideclimatenews.org/....
21 - John R. Balmes, Where There’s Wildfire, There’s Smoke, 378 N. Eɴɢʟ. J. Mᴇᴅ. 881 (2018), https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/....
22 - Id.
23 - Crimmins et al., supra note 1, at 131.
24 - Ebi et al., supra note 6, at 545.
25 - Igor Dumic & Edson Severnini, “Ticking Bomb”: The Impact of Climate Change and the Incidence of Lyme Disease, 2018 Cᴀɴᴀᴅɪᴀɴ Jᴏᴜʀɴᴀʟ ᴏꜰ Iɴꜰᴇᴄᴛɪᴏᴜs Dɪsᴇᴀsᴇs ᴀɴᴅ Mᴇᴅɪᴄᴀʟ Mɪᴄʀᴏʙɪᴏʟᴏɢʏ (2018), https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/5....
26 - Mosquito Disease Danger Days, Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Cᴇɴᴛʀᴀʟ (Aug. 8, 2018), https://medialibrary.climatece....
27 - Ebi et al., supra note 6, at 546.
28 - Harrington, supra note 5.
29 - Rene Cho, How Climate Change Will Alter Our Food, Cᴏʟᴜᴍʙɪᴀ Uɴɪᴠ. Eᴀʀᴛʜ Iɴsᴛɪᴛᴜᴛᴇ (July 25, 2018), https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/....
30 - Ebi et al., supra note 6, at 546.
31 - Id. at 545.
32 - 3,700 gallons of sewage spills in N.C. amid rain from Isaias, E&E Nᴇᴡs (Aug. 5, 2020), https://www.eenews.net/greenwi....
33 - Harrington, supra note 5.
34 - Ebi et al., supra note 6, at 546.
35 - Harrington, supra note 5.
36 - Ebi et al., supra note 6, at 546.
37 - Dean Russell & Jamie Smith Hopkins, Disasters are Driving a Mental Health Crisis, Cᴛʀ. ꜰᴏʀ Pᴜʙ. Iɴᴛᴇɢʀɪᴛʏ (Aug. 25, 2020), https://publicintegrity.org/en....
38 - Id.
Health Effects of Burning Fossil Fuels
The burning of fossil fuels is the world’s largest contributor to air pollution and is a major global public health concern. It releases a wide array of harmful pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and other hazardous air pollutants. The health effects of breathing polluted air include reduced lung function, asthma, cardiovascular disease, preterm birth, and premature death.(39) Generally, older people are more susceptible to premature death due to air pollution(40) while children are especially vulnerable to asthma and impaired lung function development.(41) Air pollution, predominantly from burning fossil fuels, reduces worldwide average life expectancy by nearly three years.(42) If fossil fuel emissions were completely eliminated, the global average life expectancy would increase by 1.1 years.(43)
In the U.S., more than 100 million people live in areas where pollution exceeds national standards.(44) Research has shown that reducing pollution and improving air quality has significant positive impacts on health. In Southern California, for example, reductions in nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) over a 21-year period led to 20 percent fewer asthma diagnoses in children.(45) Yet, research has shown that even pollution at levels below national standards adversely affects health, signaling a need for stronger regulation and enforcement. A study of the Medicare population in the U.S. found significant evidence of increased risk of death from exposure to fine PM and ozone at concentrations below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.(46) Another study concluded that as air pollution increases, the rate of mortality increases almost linearly, and that any level of air pollution is harmful to human health.(47)
Particulate Matter Pollution
PM pollution is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air and is the largest environmental health risk factor in the U.S., accounting for 63 percent of deaths from environmental causes.(48) PM pollution varies in size, and is usually classified in two categories — larger particles with diameters up to 10 micrometers and the more deadly(49) fine particles with diameters 2.5 micrometers or smaller.(50) The majority of PM2.5 is formed through chemical reactions in the air with pollutants emitted from power plants, automobiles, and other sources of fossil fuel emissions.(51)
Exposure to PM has been associated with a wide range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues, lung cancer, and adverse birth outcomes,(52) and is associated with up to 45,000 deaths annually.(53) PM2.5 pollution has more recently been linked to hospitalizations for common diseases, including those related to blood, skin, and kidneys, even when daily PM2.5 levels are below World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines.(54) In fact, researchers have concluded that there is no level of PM2.5 pollution below which the risk of death is negligible, and therefore no “safe” level of PM2.5.(55)
Improvements in air quality from reducing PM pollution have been shown to have significant positive impacts on health. For example, reducing PM pollution could increase average life expectancy by eight months in the wildfire-prone areas in the Central Valley of California and by two months in the industry-heavy areas of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.(56) Unfortunately, after declining by 24.2 percent from 2009 to 2016, average annual PM pollution in the U.S. increased by 5.5 percent between 2016 and 2018. This increase was associated with 9,700 additional premature deaths in 2018, representing $89 billion in damages.(57)
Ozone, the main ingredient in forming smog, is another exceptionally dangerous air pollutant that results from burning fossil fuels. Ozone is made up of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals that develop in the atmosphere after being emitted from tailpipes, power plants, refineries, and other sources.(58) Exposure to ground-level ozone is associated with many adverse health effects including premature death, respiratory hospital admissions, cases of aggravated asthma, lost days of school, and reduced productivity among outdoor workers.(59) More than one million deaths worldwide(60) and 51,000 deaths in the U.S. are associated with ground level ozone pollution every year.(61)
Coal Impacts on Public Health
Burning coal releases a number of harmful pollutants, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and metals such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, and other known and possible carcinogens. The public health consequences of extracting, processing, and burning coal include respiratory illness, cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, poor birth outcomes, poor quality of life, mental health problems, and death.(62) More than 3,000 deaths every year are attributable to PM2.5 pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants.(63) Exposure to mercury released from power plants has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and autoimmune dysfunction in adults and permanent neurological damage in children.(64)
Research has shown that regulation and enforcement efforts aimed at reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants result in positive impacts for public health.(65) For example, reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in Kentucky were associated with fewer local hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to asthma, as well as decreases in people’s use of rescue inhalers.(66) Analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that closing Illinois’ coal plants by 2030 and replacing them with clean energy would prevent significant numbers of heart attacks, hospital admissions, incidents of chronic bronchitis, and premature deaths.(67)
Coal-fired power plants also harm public health by producing immense quantities of coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal that contains numerous toxic metals including mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, cadmium, nickel, zinc, and others.(68) There are at least 737 coal ash dumps in 43 states, nearly all of which are contaminating groundwater with toxins.(69) Power plants typically dispose of coal ash in surface impoundments, often unlined, which leak into surrounding soil, groundwater and surface water, and are disproportionately likely to be located near low-income communities. Breathing and ingesting coal ash toxins can cause a multitude of health problems including cancer, cardiovascular problems, and nervous system damage,(70) and research has documented increased health problems in children who reside near coal ash impoundments.(71)
Oil & Gas Production and Public Health
More than 50 million Americans live near oil and gas operations that have measured air pollution levels exceeding the federal health standard.(72) Oil and gas operations are the leading industrial source of smog-forming volatile organic compounds, releasing numerous toxic chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, toluene, xylene, benzene, and formaldehyde, that have serious public health impacts.(73) Exposure to air pollution released by the oil and gas sector is expected to cause 2,000 premature deaths, 3,600 emergency room visits, 100,000 lost days of work, and over a million asthma exacerbations annually by 2025 and each year thereafter, resulting in annual health damages of $13 to 26 billion.(74) Studies have also linked living near oil and gas wells to lower birth weights, preterm births, and other negative birth outcomes in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Texas. A study of millions of birth records in California found that pregnant women living near the highest-producing wells in the state were 40 percent more likely to have low birth weight babies than people living farther away or near inactive sites.(75)
Transportation and Public Health
The transportation sector, which relies almost entirely on fossil fuels, is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for more than two-thirds of all oil burned in the U.S. every day.(76) Pollution emitted by the transportation sector includes particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide, and causes a wide array of health impacts ranging from respiratory, cardiovascular, and immune system problems to cancer and premature death.(77) In New York City alone, PM2.5 pollution from motor vehicle emissions contributes to 320 deaths and 870 hospitalizations and emergency department visits annually.(78) As with nearly all polluting industries, reducing air pollution from the transportation sector would have significant positive impacts on public health. For example, studies have found that implementing clean transportation policies could prevent 120,000 premature deaths by 2030 and 14,000 deaths annually thereafter.(79)
Citations - Health Effects of Burning Fossil Fuels
39 - Cleaner Air Tied to Healthier Lungs in Kids, Nᴀᴛ. Iɴsᴛs. ᴏꜰ Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜ (Mar. 16, 2015), https://www.nih.gov/news-event... [hereinafter Cleaner Air].
40 - Neela Banerjee, Breathing Polluted Air Shortens People’s Lives by an Average of 3 Years, a New Study Finds, Iɴsɪᴅᴇ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Nᴇᴡs (March 3, 2020), https://insideclimatenews.org/....
41 - Cleaner Air, supra note 39.
42 - Jos Lelieveld et al., Loss of life expectancy from air pollution compared to other risk factors: a worldwide perspective, 116 Cᴀʀᴅɪᴏᴠᴀsᴄᴜʟᴀʀ Rᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜ 1910 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1093/cvr/cv....
43 - Id.
44 - Christopher G. Nolte et al., Air Quality, in Iᴍᴘᴀᴄᴛs, Rɪsᴋs, ᴀɴᴅ Aᴅᴀᴘᴛᴀᴛɪᴏɴ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ Uɴɪᴛᴇᴅ Sᴛᴀᴛᴇs: Fᴏᴜʀᴛʜ Nᴀᴛɪᴏɴᴀʟ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Assᴇssᴍᴇɴᴛ, Vᴏʟᴜᴍᴇ II 13 (2018), https://nca2018.globalchange.g....
45 - Asthma cases dropped when air pollution declined, Nᴀᴛ. Iɴsᴛs. ᴏꜰ Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜ (June 18, 2019), https://www.nih.gov/news-event....
46 - Qian Di et al., Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population, 376 N. Eɴɢʟ. J. Mᴇᴅ. 2513 (2017), http://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1....
47 - Air pollution linked to risk of premature death, Nᴀᴛ. Iɴsᴛs. ᴏꜰ Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜ (Jan. 9, 2018), https://www.nih.gov/news-event....
48 - Inequitable Exposure to Air Pollution from Vehicles in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Uɴɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴᴇᴅ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪsᴛs (June 21, 2019), https://www.ucsusa.org/resourc....
49 - The Weight of Numbers: Air Pollution and PM2.5, Uɴᴅᴀʀᴋ (2018), https://undark.org/breathtakin....
50 - Cleaner Air, supra note 39.
51 - Particulate Matter (PM) Basics, U.S. Eɴᴠᴛʟ. Pʀᴏᴛ. Aɢᴇɴᴄʏ, https://www.epa.gov/pm-polluti... (last visited Sept. 14, 2020).
52 - Particle Pollution, U.S. Cᴛʀ. ꜰᴏʀ Dɪsᴇᴀsᴇ Cᴏɴᴛʀᴏʟ ᴀɴᴅ Pʀᴇᴠᴇɴᴛɪᴏɴ https://www.cdc.gov/air/partic... (last updated Sept. 4, 2020).
53 - U.S. Eɴᴠᴛʟ. Pʀᴏᴛ. Aɢᴇɴᴄʏ, Pᴏʟɪᴄʏ Assᴇssᴍᴇɴᴛ ꜰᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ Rᴇᴠɪᴇᴡ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜᴇ Nᴀᴛɪᴏɴᴀʟ Aᴍʙɪᴇɴᴛ Aɪʀ Qᴜᴀʟɪᴛʏ Sᴛᴀɴᴅᴀʀᴅs ꜰᴏʀ Pᴀʀᴛɪᴄᴜʟᴀᴛᴇ Mᴀᴛᴛᴇʀ (2020), https://www.epa.gov/sites/prod....
54 - Short-term exposure to air pollution linked with hospital admissions, substantial costs, Tʜᴇ Hᴀʀᴠᴀʀᴅ Gᴀᴢᴇᴛᴛᴇ (Dec. 23, 2019), https://news.harvard.edu/gazet....
55 - Di et al., supra note 46.
56 - Michael Greenstone & Claire Fan, Air Quality Life Index Annual Update, Eɴᴇʀɢʏ Pᴏʟɪᴄʏ Iɴsᴛ. ᴀᴛ ᴛʜᴇ Uɴɪᴠ. ᴏꜰ Cʜɪᴄᴀɢᴏ (July 2020), https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu....
57 - Karen Clay & Nicholas Z. Muller, Recent Increases in Air Pollution: Evidence and Implications for Mortality, Nᴀᴛ. Bᴜʀᴇᴀᴜ ᴏꜰ Eᴄᴏɴᴏᴍɪᴄ Rᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜ (2019), http://doi.org/10.3386/W26381.
58 - Ozone, Aᴍ. Lᴜɴɢ Assɴ., https://www.lung.org/clean-air... (last updated Apr. 20, 2020).
59 - Nolte et al., supra note 44, at 518.
60 - Andy Haines & Kristie Ebi, The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health, 380 N. Eɴɢʟ. J. Mᴇᴅ. 263 (2019), http://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra1....
61 - Health and Economic Benefits of 2°C Climate Policy: Hearing on “The Devastating Impacts of Climate Change on Health” before the H. Comm. on Oversight and Reform, 116th Cong. (2020) (testimony of Drew Shindell, Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment), https://oversight.house.gov/si....
62 - Michael Hendryx et al., Impacts of Coal Use on Health, 41 Aɴɴᴜᴀʟ Rᴇᴠɪᴇᴡs 397 (2020) https://doi.org/10.1146/annure....
63 - Raising Awareness of the Health Impacts of Coal Plant Pollution, Cʟᴇᴀɴ Aɪʀ Tᴀsᴋ Fᴏʀᴄᴇ https://www.catf.us/educationa... (last visited Sept. 14, 2020) [hereinafter Raising Awareness].
64 - Massachusetts et al., Comment Letter on Proposed National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units–Reconsideration of Supplemental Finding and Residual Risk and Technology Review (Apr. 17, 2019) (state comments in opposition to proposed reversing of the finding in the MATS rule).
65 - Raising Awareness, supra note 63.
66 - Drop in coal power plant emissions associated with asthma improvements, Nᴀᴛ. Iɴsᴛs. ᴏꜰ Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜ (Apr. 21, 2020), https://www.nih.gov/news-event....
67 - Soot to Solar: Illinois’ Clean Energy Transition, Uɴɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴᴇᴅ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪsᴛs (Oct. 24, 2018), https://www.ucsusa.org/resourc....
68 - Hendryx et al., supra note 62, at 404.
69 - Mapping the Coal Ash Contamination, Eᴀʀᴛʜᴊᴜsᴛɪᴄᴇ (Nov. 6, 2019), https://earthjustice.org/featu....
70 - Harm to Human Health from Breathing and Ingesting Coal Ash Toxicants, Eᴀʀᴛʜᴊᴜsᴛɪᴄᴇ, https://earthjustice.org/featu... (last visited Sept. 14, 2020).
71 - Hendryx et al., supra note 62, at 405.
72 - Methane Pollution from the Oil & Gas Industry Harms Public Health, Eɴᴠᴛʟ. Dᴇꜰᴇɴsᴇ Fᴜɴᴅ, https://www.edf.org/sites/defa... (last visited Sept. 14, 2020) [hereinafter Methane Pollution].
73 - Id.
74 - Methane Leaks from Oil & Gas Exploration: A Health Nightmare, Nᴀᴛᴜʀᴀʟ Rᴇsᴏᴜʀᴄᴇs Dᴇꜰᴇɴsᴇ Cᴏᴜɴᴄɪʟ (Dec. 04, 2018), https://www.nrdc.org/experts/v....
75 - Emily Dooley, California Study Finds Lower Birth Weights Near Oil, Gas Wells, Bʟᴏᴏᴍʙᴇʀɢ Lᴀᴡ Nᴇᴡs (Jan. 27, 2020), https://www.bloomberglaw.com/d....
76 - The Impacts of Oil, Uɴɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴᴇᴅ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪsᴛs, https://www.ucsusa.org/transpo... (last visited Sept. 14, 2020).
77 - Cars, Trucks, Buses and Air Pollution, Uɴɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴᴇᴅ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪsᴛs, https://www.ucsusa.org/resourc... (last updated July 19, 2018).
78 - Iyad Kheirbek, The contribution of motor vehicle emissions to ambient fine particulate matter public health impacts in New York City: a health burden assessment, 15 Eɴᴠᴛʟ. Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜ 89 (2016) http://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-....
79 - Haines & Ebi, supra note 60.
The toll of climate change on human health is a serious environmental justice issue. Although all Americans are vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, these impacts are not felt equally across the country. People of color, Indigenous peoples, low-income communities, immigrant groups, people with disabilities, children, pregnant women, and older adults are more susceptible to many of the health harms related to climate change and fossil fuel emissions.(80) Ensuring that all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income are included and treated equally in the development, implementation, and enforcement of the laws and regulations mitigating the effects of climate change is crucial to protecting the health of all Americans.
Limited economic resources and deteriorating infrastructure are some of the barriers to communities’ ability to recover after experiencing extreme weather events, increasing their vulnerability to climate-related health effects. In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, many environmental justice communities experienced increased illness and injury, death, and displacement due to poor-quality housing, lack of access to emergency communications, lack of access to transportation, inadequate access to health care services and medications, limited post-disaster employment, and limited or no health and property insurance.(81)
In 2017, three hurricanes impacted the United States and caused severe damage. Yet, existing inequalities and the federal government’s abysmal response after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico resulted in long-lasting challenges to the island’s recovery. Puerto Ricans do not have access to many of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and, therefore, rely on public programs like community health centers, Medicaid, and Medicare for healthcare. After the storm hit, these severely underfunded programs were not able to meet the health needs of the island.(82) In addition, compared to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response after hurricanes made landfall in Texas and Florida in the same year, there are vast differences in the number of supplies and personnel that FEMA deployed to Puerto Rico. These discrepancies compounded with the widespread disruptions to already fragile medical systems on the island likely contributed to Hurricane Maria being one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history.(83)
In some areas of the country, climate change is permanently displacing people from their homes, creating climate refugees. In Alaska, the loss of sea ice due to abnormally high temperatures and unusual weather patterns is causing dramatic coastal erosion, threatening the existence of 31 Native coastal and river communities. In the small village Newtok, for example, erosion and flooding threaten the safety and wellbeing of residents and have forced many of them to relocate.(84) Off the coast of Louisiana, repeated devastation from multiple hurricanes, the loss of landmass due to sea level rise and erosion, and oil and gas development are also forcing residents of bayou communities to relocate or make plans to relocate if these conditions continue to worsen.(85)
Policy failures in areas outside of public health and environmental policy have also led to environmental injustice due to climate impacts. Evidence suggests that redlining policies of the 20th century, which segregated cities and diverted investments away from communities of color, have led to urban heat islands that continue to disproportionately impact these neighborhoods.(86) Redlined neighborhoods in more than 100 U.S. cities are more likely to have fewer trees and parks that cool the air and more asphalt and highways that radiate heat. On average, these neighborhoods are 5°F warmer than non-redlined districts, leading to a higher risk of heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses for these residents.(87) Even cities that have enacted policies to combat the effects of past housing discrimination policies still experience differences in temperatures of as much as 12.5°F between historically redlined neighborhoods and non-redlined neighborhoods.(88) As the effects of climate change lead to more days of extreme heat, these communities will feel the greatest impact.
Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be located near polluting industries and be exposed to polluted air.(89) People of color are nearly twice as likely as white people to live within one mile of chemical facilities, and children of color make up more than two-thirds of the children that live in this zone.(90) A study of the burden of PM-emitting facilities on surrounding communities found that people living in poverty had 1.4 times more exposure to PM pollution than the overall population, and people of color had 1.3 times more exposure.(91)
In Imperial County, California, residents suffer from poor air quality due to high levels of ozone pollution from Mexicali, a large city across the border in Mexico. It is well-documented that residents of Imperial County experience above average rates of asthma, and high poverty and unemployment rates and language barriers prevent residents from receiving adequate medical care. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waived requirements under the Clean Air Act to clean up the air in Imperial County because much of the air pollution comes from across the U.S.-Mexico border.(92)
Researchers have also found that environmental justice communities are disproportionately located near oil and gas facilities. For instance, over 1 million Black people live in counties with a risk of cancer from toxins emitted by natural gas facilities above EPA’s level of “concern,” and more than 6.7 million Black people live in the 91 counties in the U.S. with oil refineries.(93) Wells, pipelines, and compressor stations are disproportionately located in low-income, non-white, and marginalized communities, where they may leak gas, generate noise, and endanger health while producing no local benefits.(94) The location of these oil and gas facilities is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the 138,000 asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days that Black children experience each year.(95)
In addition, the transportation sector places an excessive burden of air pollution on environmental justice communities. A study of air pollution from cars, trucks, and buses in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic found that communities of color are exposed to 66 percent more PM2.5 pollution than white communities(96); and an assessment of the health burden of vehicle emissions in New York City concluded that high poverty neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by ozone and PM2.5 pollution.(97)
Citations - Environmental Justice
80 - Crimmins et al., supra note 1, at 249.
81 - Id. at 253.
82 - David Blumenthal & Shanoor Seervai, What Hurricane Maria’s Death Toll Reveals About Health Care in Puerto Rico, Tʜᴇ Cᴏᴍᴍᴏɴᴡᴇᴀʟᴛʜ Fᴜɴᴅ (June 7, 2018), https://hbr.org/2018/06/what-h....
83 - Id.
84 - Geof Koss, ‘We cannot wait.’ Sinking Alaska village finds new home, E&E Nᴇᴡs (Sept. 4 2019), https://www.eenews.net/stories....
85 - Annie Snider, Letter from Louisiana: ‘It’s Not Going To Be Alright’, Pᴏʟɪᴛɪᴄᴏ (Sept. 1 2017), https://www.politico.com/magaz....
86 - Brad Plumer & Nadja Popovich, How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering, N.Y. Tɪᴍᴇs (Aug. 24 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/intera...®i_id=96909927§ion_index=2§ion_name=three_more_big_stories&segment_id=36808&te=1&user_id=ab7270241d0d903428af42eb1eace88a.
87 - Daniel Cusick, Past Racist ‘Redlining’ Practices Increased Climate Burden on Minority Neighborhoods, Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪꜰɪᴄ Aᴍᴇʀɪᴄᴀɴ (Jan. 21 2020), https://www.scientificamerican....
88 - Id.
89 - Ihad Mikati, Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status, 108 Aᴍ. Jᴏᴜʀɴᴀʟ ᴏꜰ Pᴜʙ. Hᴇᴀʟᴛʜ 480 (2018), https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2....
90 - Amanda Starbuck & Ronald White, Living in the Shadow of Danger: Poverty, Race, and Unequal Chemical Facility Hazards, Cᴛʀ. ꜰᴏʀ Eꜰꜰᴇᴄᴛɪᴠᴇ Gᴏᴠᴇʀɴᴍᴇɴᴛ (2018), https://www.foreffectivegov.or....
91 - Mikati, supra note 89.
92 - Charles Corbet, Fighting for Clean Air in Imperial County, California, Lᴇɢᴀʟ Pʟᴀɴᴇᴛ (Aug. 27, 2020), https://legal-planet.org/2020/....
93 - Lesley Fleischman & Marcus Franklin, Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities, Cʟᴇᴀɴ Aɪʀ Tᴀsᴋ Fᴏʀᴄᴇ (Nov. 2017), http://www.catf.us/wp-content/....
94 - Philip Landrigan et al., The False Promise of Natural Gas, 382 N. Eɴɢʟ. J. Mᴇᴅ. 104 (2020), http://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp19....
95 - Fleischman & Franklin, supra note 93.
96 - In the Northeast, Communities of Color Breathe 66% More Air Pollution from Vehicles, Uɴɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ Cᴏɴᴄᴇʀɴᴇᴅ Sᴄɪᴇɴᴛɪsᴛs (June 27, 2019), https://www.ucsusa.org/about/n....
97 - Kheirbek, supra note 78.
Trump Administration Climate Rollbacks
Affordable Clean Energy Rule
One of the Trump administration’s most significant anti-environment initiatives is the so-called “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, a regulatory effort that protects the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our climate, the environment, and public health. The rule replaced the Clean Power Plan, finalized by the Obama administration in 2015, which would have established the first nationwide and state-based limits on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Reductions in harmful air pollutants under the Clean Power Plan would have avoided at least 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children annually by 2030.(98)
The Trump administration, however, ignored the health and climate benefits of reduced reliance on fossil fuels, finalizing a significantly watered-down replacement rule in June 2019. The replacement rule is based on an unlawfully restrictive application of the Clean Air Act which violates the agency’s obligation to reduce carbon emissions. Consequently, as a 23-state coalition of state attorneys general pointed out in comments objecting to the rule, the rollback will result in an increase of 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and lead to an additional 1,630 premature deaths, 120,000 asthma attacks, 140,000 missed school days, and 48,000 lost work days in 2030 relative to the Clean Power Plan.(99) Given the enormous stakes for public health and the environment, state attorneys general are challenging the final rule in court.
Clean Car Standards
The 2012 Clean Car Standards were a joint effort between the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the California Air Resources Board and car manufacturers to limit greenhouse gas emissions by gradually raising fuel efficiency standards for new passenger vehicles and light trucks. Despite the clear health and economic benefits of these standards, the Trump administration replaced them with significantly weakened standards and revoked California’s Clean Air Act waiver to set its own, more stringent standards. As a coalition of state attorneys general emphasized in comments on the rollback, the watered-down standards will not make Americans safer, as the flawed analysis presented by the administration argued.(101) In fact, the additional air pollution that will result from the rule is expected to cause 18,500 premature deaths, 250,000 more asthma attacks, and 350,000 additional respiratory ailments due to air pollution by 2050. The Trump administration’s so-called “SAFE Vehicles” rule, which 25 state attorneys general are challenging in court, will result in increased health care costs for Americans, lost days of work and school, and a net cost to society of $13.1 billion.(102)
Regulating Methane Emissions
The Trump administration’s efforts to roll back regulations that reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry will have serious public health consequences due to both the significant impacts that methane has on the climate and the harmful pollutants released alongside methane by oil and gas operations. Scientists have concluded that immediate and substantial reductions in methane emissions are necessary to limit warming by 1.5°C by 2050.(103)
New and Existing Sources of Methane Emissions
Despite the overwhelming evidence of methane’s impact on the warming climate, the Trump administration has loosened or eliminated regulations for both new and existing sources of methane emissions from oil and gas operations. After unlawfully delaying implementation of elements of an Obama administration rule setting New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new and modified sources of methane emissions, the Trump administration finalized its own replacement rule essentially removing all methane controls on the oil and gas industry. The EPA acknowledged that its rule will increase methane emissions by 400,000 tons, volatile organic compounds emissions by 11,000 tons, and hazardous air pollutants by about 330 tons between 2021 and 2030 as compared to the 2016 standards.(104) As noted by a coalition of attorneys general in a comment letter opposing the rollback, these changes will interfere with states’ ability to meet the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone, jeopardizing the health of millions of Americans.(105)
The Trump administration has also refused to regulate existing sources of methane emissions from oil and gas operations, a Clean Air Act requirement triggered by the promulgation of regulations for new sources — a refusal that state attorneys general are challenging in court.(106)
Methane Waste Prevention
The Trump administration’s attempts to nullify the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2016 methane Waste Prevention Rule are another example of its failure to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The rule was intended to reduce wasteful emissions of natural gas from venting, flaring and equipment leaks during oil and gas production activities on federal and tribal lands. However, the Trump administration has launched multiple attempts to repeal the rule and abandon emissions reductions totaling 175,000-180,000 tons of methane, 250,000-267,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, and 1,860-2,030 tons of other toxic air pollutants each year.
After the court sided with the state attorneys general and blocked BLM’s delay of the rule in 2018, the agency released a rescission rule repealing key requirements that prevent waste of natural gas on public lands. State attorneys general again sued BLM, pointing out its failure to consider the environmental impacts of the rule before promulgating it and to account for the global costs of increased methane emissions.(107) In July 2020, the court ruled in favor of the attorneys general, vacating the 2018 rescission rule and reimplementing the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule.(108)
Landfill Methane Emissions
State attorneys general are also challenging the EPA’s plan to delay implementation of Obama-era standards on methane emissions from solid waste landfills, the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States.(109) The EPA estimated that these regulations would yield methane emission reductions of approximately 330,000 metric tons per year by 2025, yet the Trump administration has delayed implementation until 2021.(110) Landfills also release hazardous air pollutants and VOCs, and any delay in mitigating these emissions has an immediate, adverse impact on the health of communities located near landfills.(111)
Particulate Matter NAAQS
PM pollution is regulated under the Clean Air Act’s NAAQS program as a criteria air pollutant, and review of NAAQS is required every five years. Since the last review was completed in 2012, a wealth of new evidence supports more stringent standards for PM pollution in order to better protect human health and welfare. Despite the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community about the reliability of this evidence, the Trump administration in April 2020 proposed not to strengthen NAAQS.(112) In comments criticizing the proposed decision, state attorneys general highlighted the inadequacy of the EPA’s decision, particularly its conclusion that leaving the PM NAAQS unchanged will have no disproportionate impact on minority or other at-risk groups.(113) Scientific evidence wholly contradicts this conclusion, and the EPA’s willingness to so egregiously disregard this and all the other evidence pointing to the need for more stringent NAAQS for PM is a threat to the health of millions of Americans.
Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule regulates emissions of mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollutants from power plants under the Clean Air Act. The coal-fired power plants that are subject to the MATS rule are responsible for more hazardous air pollution than any other industrial pollution source, according to the American Lung Association.(114) Since their implementation beginning in 2012, the standards have also been successful in reducing other power plant pollutants, including particulate matter. In total, the MATS rule has resulted in 4,200 to 11,000 avoided premature deaths, 2,800 fewer cases of chronic bronchitis, 830 fewer hospital admissions for respiratory symptoms, and 1,800 fewer hospital admissions for cardiovascular symptoms.(115)
However, the Trump administration recently reversed the Obama administration’s determination that the MATS rule is “appropriate and necessary” under the Clean Air Act, based on a flawed cost-benefit analysis that discounted the public health benefits of reducing mercury pollution and disregarded billions of dollars of co-benefits.The rollback irrationally requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to no longer take into account the entirety of health benefits that flow from controlling mercury emissions when setting pollution standards, setting a dangerous precedent that could cripple the agency’s air pollution program. A coalition of state attorneys general are challenging the reversal in court, and have also stepped in to protect the MATS rule from an industry-led lawsuit, warning that the current EPA cannot be expected to faithfully defend it.
Regulation of the disposal of coal ash, the toxic remains of coal burned in power plants, is essential for protecting the drinking water of millions of Americans. The Trump administration, however, has issued several rulemakings weakening these regulations, including a proposal to extend deadlines for closing coal ash impoundments as far out as 2028, a proposal that would allow increased discharges of pollutants such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium into waterways, and a proposal that would allow many impoundments, including those with a history of leaking, to potentially remain open indefinitely.(116)
As pointed out in several comment letters by state attorneys general objecting to these proposals, the EPA has consistently ignored the overwhelming evidence of the dangers to the environment and public health posed by unlined or leaking coal ash impoundments.(117) For instance, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires that dumps pose “no reasonable probability of adverse effects on health or the environment from disposal of solid waste,”(118) yet unlined impoundments have a 9.1 percent chance of contaminating drinking water wells within one mile.(119) The EPA also admitted that recent data suggests a greater number of impoundments are leaking than the agency originally estimated during the previous rulemaking in 2015, yet proposed no new risk assessment to evaluate the impacts of the proposed changes. Rather than ensure public health is protected, the Trump administration once again chose to weaken regulations in order to benefit industry.
Citations - Trump Administration Climate Rollbacks
98 - Fact Sheet: Clean Power Plan Benefits, U.S. Eɴᴠᴛʟ. Pʀᴏᴛ. Aɢᴇɴᴄʏ, https://archive.epa.gov/epa/cl... (last visited Sept. 14, 2020).
99 - New York et al., Comment Letter on Proposed Emission Guidelines for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Electric Utility Generating Units; Revisions to Emission Guideline Implementing Regulations; Revisions to New Source Review Program (Oct. 31, 2018) (state comments in opposition to the EPA’s 2018 so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule).
100 - California et al. Comment Letter on Proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (Oct. 26, 2018) (state comments in opposition to the EPA’s 2018 proposed Clean Cars Standards rollback).
101 - Methane Pollution, supra note 72.
102 - Maxine Joselow, Trump’s car rule would cause more pollution deaths, E&E Nᴇᴡs (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.eenews.net/stories....
103 - Joeri Rogelj, Mitigation Pathways Compatible with 1.5°C in the Context of Sustainable Development, in Gʟᴏʙᴀʟ Wᴀʀᴍɪɴɢ ᴏꜰ 1.5°C. ᴀɴ IPCC Sᴘᴇᴄɪᴀʟ Rᴇᴘᴏʀᴛ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ Iᴍᴘᴀᴄᴛs ᴏꜰ Gʟᴏʙᴀʟ Wᴀʀᴍɪɴɢ ᴏꜰ 1.5°C Aʙᴏᴠᴇ Pʀᴇ-Iɴᴅᴜsᴛʀɪᴀʟ Lᴇᴠᴇʟs ᴀɴᴅ Rᴇʟᴀᴛᴇᴅ Gʟᴏʙᴀʟ Gʀᴇᴇɴʜᴏᴜsᴇ Gᴀs Eᴍɪssɪᴏɴ Pᴀᴛʜᴡᴀʏs, ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ Cᴏɴᴛᴇxᴛ ᴏꜰ Sᴛʀᴇɴɢᴛʜᴇɴɪɴɢ ᴛʜᴇ Gʟᴏʙᴀʟ Rᴇsᴘᴏɴsᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ Tʜʀᴇᴀᴛ ᴏꜰ Cʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ Cʜᴀɴɢᴇ, Sᴜsᴛᴀɪɴᴀʙʟᴇ Dᴇᴠᴇʟᴏᴘᴍᴇɴᴛ, ᴀɴᴅ Eꜰꜰᴏʀᴛs ᴛᴏ Eʀᴀᴅɪᴄᴀᴛᴇ Pᴏᴠᴇʀᴛʏ 2 (2018), https://www.ipcc.ch/site/asset....
104 - Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review, 85 Fed. Reg. 57,018 (Sept. 14, 2020) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. pt. 60).
105 - California et al., Comment Letter on Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review (Sept. 24, 2019) (state comments in opposition to EPA’s 2019 rollback of methane emissions regulations on the oil and gas industry).
106 - Complaint, New York v. Pruitt No. 1:18-cv-00773 (D.D.C. Apr. 5, 2018).
107 - Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, California v. Zinke No. 3:18-cv-05712 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 18, 2018).
108 - California v. Bernhardt No. 4:18-cv-05712-YGR (N.D. Cal. July 15, 2020) (order striking down BLM’s rollback of the 2016 Methane Waste Prevention rule).
109 - Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, California v. EPA No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D. Cal. May 31, 2018).
110 - Id.
111 - Petitioners’ Proof Brief, Envtl. Defense Fund v. Envtl. Protection Agency No. 19-1227 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 12, 2020).
112 - Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, The Need for a Tighter Particulate-Matter Air-Quality Standard, 383 N. Eɴɢʟ. J. Mᴇᴅ. 680 (2020), https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/1....
113 - New York et al., Comment Letter on The EPA Administrator’s Review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter (June 29, 2020).
114 - Massachusetts et al., Comment Letter on the EPA’s Proposed National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units—Reconsideration of Supplemental Finding and Residual Risk and Technology Review (Apr. 17, 2020) (state comments in opposition to EPA’s rollback of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards).
115 - Id
116 - Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category, 84 Fed. Reg. 64,620 (Nov. 22, 2019) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. pt. 423); Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals From Electric Utilities; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A: Deadline To Initiate Closure, 84 Fed. Reg. 65,941 (Dec. 2, 2019) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. pt. 257); Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of CCR; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part B: Alternate Demonstration for Unlined Surface Impoundments; Implementation of Closure, 85 Fed. Reg. 12,456 (Mar. 3, 2020) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. pt. 257).
117 - Maryland et al., Comment Letter on Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A: Deadline to Initiate Closure; Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category (Jan. 21, 2020); Maryland et al., Comment Letter on Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of CCR; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part B: Alternate Demonstration for Unlined Surface Impoundments; Implementation of Closure (Apr. 17, 2020).
118 - 42 U.S.C. § 6944.
119 - Utility Solid Waste Activities Group v. Envtl. Protection Agency No. 15-1219 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 21, 2018).
Perspectives on Climate Change and Public Health
NYU School of Law’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center and Institute for Policy Integrity co-hosted an online conference on September 22, 2020 to explore the serious threat that climate change poses to public health. Experts from around the country discussed climate-related health problems and some of the barriers working against the full consideration of health impacts in climate and environmental policy.
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center and the Institute for Policy Integrity co-hosted an online conference to explore the serious threat that climate change poses to public health. Experts from around the country discussed climate-related health problems and some of the barriers working against the full consideration of health impacts in climate and environmental policy.
Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Dr. Aaron Bernstein
Interim Director, Climate Health and the Global Environment, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health; Pediatric Hospitalist, Boston Children’s Hospital
Dr. John Holdren
Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, Kennedy School of Government and Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University; former Science Advisor to President Obama and Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2008-2016
President and Chief Executive Officer, NRDC; Former Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Dr. Sudip Parikh
Chief Executive Officer and Executive Publisher, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Reporter, Climate Desk, The New York Times
Dr. N. Stuart Harris
Chief, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Division of Wilderness Medicine; Director, MGH Wilderness Medicine Fellowship; Department of Emergency Medicine, MGH; Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Affiliated Faculty, Belfer Center Arctic Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School of Government (Panelist and Moderator)
Dr. Kari Nadeau
Director, Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University; Director, FARE Center of Excellence at Stanford University; Naddisy Foundation Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics
Dr. William N. Rom
Research Professor, Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine; Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine
Dr. Linda Walden
Founding/Steering Committee Georgia Clinicians for Climate Action; Immediate Past Region III Chair, National Medical Association (Southeast U.S.); Member, Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health; Past President, Georgia State Medical Association, Inc.; Board of Trustees, National Medical Association; Family Physician