Cleaner Air Would Boost, Not Break Economic Progress
By Frances Beinecke and Dr. Elena RiosWe are writing together as an environmentalist and a Hispanic medical professional because our missions intersect on protecting people from the damaging impacts of climate change. We agree: Addressing this challenge doesn't involve tradeoffs, as some claim, but opportunities to trade up, for our future. The choice between clean air and jobs is a false choice. Here's the truth: Instead of letting climate change continue to wreak havoc with every freak storm, every drought, every heat wave, every wildfire, we can protect our communities and create new jobs. We can grow the economy and breathe cleaner air that doesn't worsen our children's asthma, and leave us coughing and missing work. Houston sits at the crossroads. The "energy capital of the world" refines, develops and sends through the Ship Channel billions of gallons of oil, the burning of which contributes to both the economy and climate change. Climate change, and the hotter temperatures that come with it, is making air quality worse and putting millions of people at greater risk of the damaging health impacts of smog. Houston this year stood as the nation's seventh smoggiest city, with as many as 137,000 children and 337,000 adults at risk of asthma attacks, the American Lung Association reports. That's why President Barack Obama's climate action plan is important. The centerpiece - curbing unlimited carbon pollution from power plants, the key driver of climate change - will put us on the path to healthier communities and job creation. Think about it. We limit mercury, sulfur and arsenic in our air and water. Amazingly, power plants have free license to dump all the carbon pollution they want into the sky. Today power companies across our country kick out more than 2.1 billion tons of carbon pollution every year. Texas ranks first among the states with 276 million tons released from its power plants in 2011, a national benchmarking report by Ceres shows. The president is right. This pollution isn't safe and must be reined in. Today, nearly half of all U.S. Latinos live in areas that fail to meet air quality standards. About 1 million live in Houston, the city with the third most Latinos in the U.S. Nationally, most Americans support government taking action to reduce carbon pollution and 86 percent of Latinos favor the president working to curb pollution linked to climate change, according to a Latino Decisions poll conducted before the president unveiled his plan. All of us are susceptible to the fierce heat waves, drought, wildfires and storms intensified by climate change. Further, it's already harming families, businesses' ability to thrive and our economy. The good news is that we can combat climate change and create good-paying jobs. Power plant carbon standards can be structured in a way they'll create a net 210,000 jobs across the country and lower families' electric bills, a new Natural Resources Defense Council report shows. NRDC determined that impact by analyzing a previous NRDC report showing how the president can tap into the Clean Air Act to cut power plant carbon pollution 26 percent by 2020. And the costs would be only about 1 percent of the industry's profits. Most of the new jobs arise from investments to upgrade the energy efficiency of our homes and offices. That means hiring more electricians, heating and air conditioning installers, carpenters, construction equipment operators, roofers, insulation specialists and building inspectors. These are good jobs that can't be outsourced. Further, electric bills actually would drop nearly a dollar a month for the average customer, with even greater savings possible through additional energy efficiency measures. The president has committed us to confront the greatest environmental challenge of our time. We can do so with less carbon, more jobs and lower bills; that's a future we can all get behind. Frances Beinecke is President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Dr. Elena Rios is President of the National Hispanic Medical Association. This article originally appeared in The Houston Chronicle.