I have worked as a doctor in the Bangor area for most of the past 33 years, and I have been a serious and a recreational athlete.
Like most active people, I dread the poor ozone and air quality days that plague Maine in the summertime. These are the days when the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Mainers avoid strenuous outdoor activity. When ozone levels are high, healthy children and adults who exert themselves and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases experience shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
Fossil-fueled power plants that generate electricity in the U.S. emit 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide and millions of tons of soot into our air each year. Here in Maine, we get much of our air pollution because we are located downwind from dirty coal-fired power plants in the Midwest and from cars to our south. Ozone smog is formed when byproducts from combustion are exposed to sunlight and warm temperatures, which is why Maine sees high pollution levels on hot summer days. As a result, Maine has nearly the highest level of childhood asthma in the country, with one in 10 Maine children suffering from asthma.
What pains me even more than seeing children wheezing in the emergency room or the elderly gasping for breath on ozone smog days is the fact that power plants to our south and west and are allowed to emit unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air. I’m hopeful this will all change thanks to the Clean Power Plan, a recent proposal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to slash CO2 emissions from existing power plants.
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which uses authority under the Clean Air Act to set the first ever federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, cuts the single largest source of the carbon pollution that causes climate change, and it will help safeguard people from breathing dirty power plant pollution. Our nation’s power plants are responsible for nearly 40 percent of all domestic carbon pollution, and, despite similar safeguards against mercury, arsenic, soot and other dangerous pollutants, there have been no limits on the dumping of carbon pollution — until now.
The Clean Power Plan proposes to cut carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030 — below 2005 levels. The EPA projects this will prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, up to 3,300 heart attacks, and up to 490,000 missed work and school days in 2030. At the same time the EPA estimates the Clean Power Plan with provide up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits, with every $1 invested yielding $7 in benefits from soot and smog reductions alone. This is a win-win for public health, our economy and the health of our climate.
Thankfully, the EPA is fulfilling its mandate to clean up our air. I thank U.S. Sen. Angus King for his statements of support for the Clean Power Plan, and I urge him and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to do all they can in Congress to see this common sense rule is implemented without delay.
Dr. Peter Millard of Belfast is Adjunct Professor of Public Health at the University of New England. He is a family physician who practices at the Seaport Community Health Center in Belfast, which is affiliated with Penobscot Community Health Care.