Continuing focus on climate change

The drumbeat for action on climate change is growing louder. Global warming and its effects on the Earth’s climate, including greater incidence of Extreme Weather Events, have environmentalists and public health experts on high alert. NYSNA members share the sentiment that action to control climate change must be an imperative.

The EPA is expected to release a final set of climate change regulations to curb planet-warming emissions from power plants in August. The Clean Power Plan (CPP), proposed in draft form last June, aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels no later than 2030. CPP chiefly targets coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions, accounting for approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. CPP requires every state to submit a plan to shift its energy systems from heavily-carbon polluting power sources, such as coal plants, to cleaner ones.

Coal biggest polluter

The health benefits of the CPP would be indirect but dramatic. While carbon emissions trap heat in the atmosphere, which contributes to a warming planet, they are not directly linked to health threats. Emissions from coal-fired power plants, however, also include a number of other pollutants, such as soot and ozone, directly linked to illnesses like asthma and lung disease. It’s estimated that CPP’s implementation will lead to climate and health benefits worth at least $55 billion in 2030, including avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths, 1,000 heart attacks and hospitalizations from air-pollution-related illness, and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

Support for the CPP is highest in states in the Northeast and Northwest, where power generation is dominated by natural gas, nuclear, hydro and renewable generation. The largest declines in pollution — and consequent benefits to health — would happen in states in the Ohio River Valley, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have some of the highest levels of emissions. Not surprisingly, these states are among the CPP’s most ardent critics, citing potential for job losses and economic disruption.

Energy solutions with jobs

NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez addressed these concerns at a community forum where representatives from labor, environmental groups and legislators reviewed pending climate-related legislation before the New York City Council. “The fear of unemployment and economic hardship due to the loss of jobs related to the slow dismantling of these systems, that’s a real fear,” she said, adding, “and that’s why we talk about just transitions — the integration of developing sustainable energy solutions with the imperative that jobs aren’t lost.”

Critics say CPP would increase the cost of energy, an outcome that would harm lower-income Americans. Under the guidance of Koch brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), West Virginia and Virginia have passed laws requiring state legislative approval of the CPP implementation plan and similar bills are moving through chambers in several other states. ALEC also is pursuing a litigation strategy, encouraging states’ attorneys general to file suit against the federal EPA over CPP. In good news for the planet, early in June a federal court dismissed a lawsuit by the nation’s largest coal companies and 14 coal-producing states that sought to block the CPP, and bills attacking the CPP have failed or been withdrawn in Mississippi, Montana and South Dakota.

New York City efforts

At the local level, the People’s Climate Movement convened a community forum in New York City at which representatives from labor and environmental groups met with legislators to review climate-related legislation pending before the City Council. The bills grew out of last September’s People’s Climate March in NYC where NYSNA members joined with hundreds of thousands of advocates and other labor unions to demand action on climate change, reduce fossil fuel emissions, and improve infrastructure resiliency.

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