Guest opinion: PSC sides with polluters, not public health – Helena Independent Record, May 22, 2013

May 22, 2013

Categories: Coal, Member news, Plains Speaking

By Dr. Georgia Milan Dr. Robert Merchant

The recent action by the Montana Public Service Commission to oppose standards for carbon pollution from power plants is the wrong prescription for better health.

By siding with those who would weaken, block or unjustly delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from fully implementing the Clean Air Act, the PSC puts polluters ahead of the public.

America’s coal-fired pollutants are the nation’s most significant industrial source of smog-forming emissions, including ozone. Additionally, scientists warn that the buildup of carbon pollution will create warmer temperatures, which may increase the risk of dangerous smog levels. More smog means more childhood asthma attacks and complications for those with lung disease.

With some members of Congress and the Montana Legislature refusing to acknowledge that climate change is happening, the EPA’s implementation and enforcement of the Clear Air Act not only is our best defense against air pollutants that cut lives short, but also helps mitigate the ever-increasing climate change crisis.

Those most vulnerable among us are at greatest risk from ozone pollution. People with lung disease such as asthma or emphysema, children, anyone 65 years old or older and also those who simply work or exercise outdoors are more likely to experience shortness of breath, inflammation in the lining of their lungs and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections. People living with lung disease are more likely to require medical treatment or even to be hospitalized on days when ozone levels are high.

Additionally, children who are raised in communities where ozone levels do not meet basic public health standards may face reduced lung function in adulthood, which increases their risk of lung disease later in life.

Power plants continue to pump out the essential ingredients necessary to form smog. The formula is alarmingly simple; two raw gases produced by smokestacks and tailpipes — nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons — become smog when temperatures rise on hot sunny days. The more unseasonably warm summers and winters we have, the more ozone pollution will threaten our health.

Along with the adoption of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which promise to save 11,000 lives each year, limits on carbon pollution will do much to protect the air we breathe, preventing tens of thousands of asthma attacks, bronchitis cases and heart attacks.

The PSC cites its responsibility to ensure that Montanans have access to safe, reliable and affordable energy. But commissioners’ opposition to standards that will protect public health and reduce health care costs by preventing disease, indicates they are placing the interests of industry over the well-being of Montanans. We urge them to reconsider this stance.

Dr. Georgia Milan is a physician from Missoula. Dr. Robert Merchant is a physician from Billings.

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