As President-elect Donald Trump made his way to Hershey on Thursday for his “Thank You Tour,” several Pennsylvania medical and environmental professionals highlighted the threat that one of Trump’s Cabinet picks poses to the health of state residents.
Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, even though “Pruitt has made it clear he doesn’t believe in climate science,” PennEnvironment executive director David Masur said in a conference call Thursday.
Clean Power Plan: From flooding to air pollution to droughts, nine in 10 residents in the state live in natural disaster areas that could be exacerbated by climate change, Masur said.
Pruitt is one of a number of state attorneys general who are fighting to halt implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions from power generation and distribution.
Health: If implemented fully, “the Clean Power Plan would result in incredible health benefits,” said Kelly Kuhns, an associate professor and chair of Millersville University’s nursing department.
By decreasing carbon pollution, more than 3,600 deaths and 1,700 heart attacks could be prevented in the state every year, Kuhns said, while more than 300,000 days of missed work and school could be avoided.
Pennsylvania’s 218,000 nurses must continue to educate people about dramatic shifts in disease patterns and significant increases in asthma cases, Kuhns said. Even poison ivy has become “much more virulent” because of changing climates, with some strains becoming far more poisonous than before, Kuhns said.
Kuhns said she is concerned by Pruitt’s nomination but also by the lack of representation for climate change science in Trump’s entire Cabinet.
“The central mission of the EPA is to address and protect public health, and as such that agency has to have a leader that values the lives of all Americans,” Kuhns said.
In addition to his efforts to undermine climate action, Pruitt has also sued the EPA in order to stop protections on streams and rivers in Pennsylvania, Masur said.
The PA fight: With the EPA expected to roll back regulations under Pruitt, it will be up to the state Department of Environmental Protection to lead the fight against carbon pollution and climate change, Masur said.
“We all believe it’s more important than ever for the state to lead, to be ready to aggressively and tenaciously fill the vacuum of leadership on these issues,” Masur said, calling for “smart clean-energy policies that will help us reduce our carbon footprint.”
Promoting clean-energy alternatives as a matter of business and economics can be a good way to reach lawmakers who do not believe in climate change, as many of these initiatives create jobs that cannot be outsourced, Masur said.
Masur called on state legislators to “stop listening to high-powered lobbyists” and “start representing individuals and the people who know the (climate change) science is real.”
“Pushing a clean-energy agenda is a way to galvanize support,” Masur said. “While there are climate-change deniers in Harrisburg, poll after poll shows us that is out of touch with the public.”