MI Air MI Health

a healthier and cleaner future is possible.

Clean Power Plan, renewable standards will save Michigan lives

Air Quality is a Matter of Life and Death
Last month was the hottest on record, and with hotter temperatures come more air quality alerts. Dangerous airpollution is a serious health risk, and for vulnerable populations—like seniors, children and those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions—poor air quality can be a matter of life and death.
In fact, according to a recent study by the American Thoracic Society (ATS), an estimated 275 people in Michigan die each year due to air pollution. In addition, 640 Michiganders experience illness from exposure to air pollution annually. Air pollution is also responsible for over half a million restricted activity days per year for Michigan residents, which means Michiganders are missing work and school because of poor air quality. For a state that prides itself on being “Pure Michigan,” we seem to lack the clean air credentials to show for it. 
A leading cause of poor air quality is our state’s dangerous appetite for burning coal, which is by and large the dirtiest source of electricity. Michigan receives nearly half of its electricity from burning coal, and 100 percent of that coal is imported from other states. Coal-fired power plants emit toxic chemicals into our atmosphere, such as nitrogen oxide, mercury, lead and sulfur dioxide, which increase levels of ground-level ozone.
Dangerous air pollution has been linked to several respiratory conditions like asthma. In Michigan, 11 percent of adults and nine percent of children have asthma, which is an alarming 25 percent higher than the national average. Michigan’s overreliance on dirty coal for our electricity will continue to take a serious toll on public health if we do not take action.
The Clean Power Plan (CPP), the federal effort to cut carbon dioxide emissions across the country by 2030, has set the stage for an energy renaissance that promotes cleaner air and a healthier society. 
Unfortunately, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has created roadblock after roadblock to implementation of the CPP. Schuette helped file a lawsuit to politicize and delay the plan, winning a stay until a September 27 court hearing, and putting on hold a strategy that would directly reduce health threats to Michigan residents.
Ironically, coal-fired power plans are already on track to close. Regardless of Schuette’s political posturing, our leaders in Lansing have an opportunity to keep public health in mind as they continue work on a long-term renewal of Michigan’s state energy law. The 2008 energy law put in place a highly successful renewable energy standard that ensures big utility companies generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Our lawmakers should build upon that success.
Renewable energy can help Michigan comply with the Clean Power Plan, decrease dangerous pollution and save ratepayers money. According to a recent Lazard report, renewable energy like wind and solar are now cheaper than coal and even natural gas. Furthermore, prices for new renewable energy development have declined by nearly half since 2008.
Decades of research shows burning coal poses significant threats to public health, and the CPP, along with breakthrough technology in the clean energy sector are setting the stage for a clean energy future. There is no better time to increase our use of clean, renewable energy.
This recent study by the ATS confirms what we already know: The dangers of air pollution are undeniable. Our leaders must put public health first and embrace the CPP and state legislation as a means to decrease the harmful impacts of air pollution and protect the health of all Michigan families, children and seniors. Please write your elected officials today and tell them the importance of promoting a clean energy future for Michigan.
Kindra Weid is a RN and coordinator of the MI Air MI Health Coalition.
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