On July 14, 2011, I attended a town hall meeting held in Derry, NH by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. I questioned him about issues concerning energy, climate and health as a result of coal fired power plants -- issues which not only affect those living in New Hampshire, but that have a global impact as well.
In the 1970s, while working as a scientist and consultant at Arthur D. Little, Inc., I was part of the team that developed the initial techniques and methods for air quality sampling for the EPA. I was the first person in New England to climb coal and oil fired power plant emission stacks hundreds of feet above the ground, to obtain samples from the stacks under high fire. I spent many months on the roofs of coal and oil fired plants sampling carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulates, and oxygen levels of flue gases.
At that time, we looked forward to cleaning up our air for our children and grandchildren. Today, forty years later, my grandchildren are almost ready for college and very little has been done to stop the pollution from coal-fired power plants.
According to the American Lung Association, nearly 155 million people in the United States live in counties with unhealthful ozone or particulate pollution. In 2010, the Clean Air Act prevented an estimated 160,000 premature deaths and delivered net economic benefits of $1.2 trillion to the United States.
Based on solid science, the release of carbon dioxide, metals, metalloids, and other pollutants are directly responsible for the negative impacts on human health including endocrine disruption, cancer, and acute and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD, and alpha-1 anti trypsin, a genetic form of COPD. Carbon dioxide absorbs strongly in the infrared light range increasing air temperature and limiting ocean absorption of the gas. These changes have direct effects on flora and fauna through pH, temperature, ocean viability and carry through to all life forms including humans.
In answer to my questions about the issues relating to EPA regulations and coal-fired power plants, presidential candidate Mitt Romney stated: "We have made a mistake is what I believe, in saying that the EPA should regulate carbon emissions. I don’t think that was the intent of the original legislation, and I don’t think carbon is a pollutant in the sense of harming our bodies."
Nothing could be further from the truth. All power plant emissions are regulated by the EPA. Mr. Romney cannot pick and choose which ones he thinks are important for them to regulate and which ones he and industry wish to control. That is clearly not in the interest of public health and a conflict of interest for corporate agendas. The Clean Air Act of 1970 (CAA) has a 40-year track record of using sound science to save lives, protect human health and safeguard our environment.
Finally, Mitt Romney stated at the town hall: “I believe very deeply that we should keep our air and our water clean and that we don't want to have pollutants that are interfering with our health and damaging the ability of our children to enjoy good health.” By not fully supporting the EPA regulations, Mitt Romney would be doing exactly the opposite of what he publicly stated.
The campaign trail is warming up -- just like our planet. Currently, the EPA is expected to act under the Clean Air Act and issue proposed health-based standards for ozone pollution, as well as first-ever national limits on global warming emissions from power plants. These standards must be issued without any further delay in the schedule, to protect all Americans and the world in the interest of public health.
Anthony Samsel was an environmental consultant on many EPA and Army Corps of Engineers environmental projects and impact statements. He is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the author of "The Guide To Water Cleanup Materials & Methods". He is now retired.
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