EPA experts detail global warming's health risks Tuesday, July 15, 2008
By DINA CAPPIELLO
WASHINGTON (AP) - Government scientists detailed a rising death toll from heat waves, wildfires, disease and smog caused by global warming in an analysis the White House buried so it could avoid regulating greenhouse gases.
In a 149-page document released Monday, the experts laid out for the first time the scientific case for the grave risks that global warming poses to people, and to the food, energy and water on which society depends.
"Risk (to human health, society and the environment) increases with increases in both the rate and magnitude of climate change," scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency said. Global warming, they wrote, is "unequivocal" and humans are to blame. The document suggests that extreme weather events and diseases carried by ticks and other organisms could kill more people as temperatures rise.
Allergies could worsen because climate change could produce more pollen. Smog, a leading cause of respiratory illness and lung disease, could become more severe in many parts of the country. At the same time, global warming could mean fewer illnesses and deaths due to cold.
"This document inescapably, unmistakably shows that global warming pollution not only threatens human health and welfare, but it is adversely impacting human health and welfare today," said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. "What this document demonstrates is that the imperative for action is now."
While the science pointed to a link between public health and climate change, the Bush administration has worked to discourage such a connection. To acknowledge one would compel the government to regulate greenhouse gases.
The administration on Friday dismissed the scientists' findings when it made clear that the Clean Air Act was the wrong tool to control global warming pollution. Instead, the administration asked for public comment on a range of ways to reduce greenhouse gases from cars, airplanes, trains and smokestacks under the 1970 law.
A better solution, the EPA said, would have Congress writing a law aimed just at global warming. Jonathan Shradar, a spokesman for EPA chief Stephen Johnson, said that while the administrator knows that "the science is clear and that climate change is a significant issue", Johnson did not want to make a "rash decision under the wrong law."
"Once there is an endangerment finding, then the Clean Air Act is activated and regulation may begin," Shradar said. In December, the White House refused to open an e-mail from the EPA that included the finding that climate change endangered public welfare. The determination was based on an earlier, and similar version of the document released Monday. At the time, the White House insisted on removing all references to the science, according to Jason K. Burnett, a former adviser to Johnson on climate issues.
Burnett, a Democrat, has charged that Vice President Dick Cheney's office deleted portions of congressional testimony last October prepared by the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that made similar assertions on the health effects of global warming.
The White House contends the testimony was changed because of doubts about the science. After the release of the EPA analysis, industry representatives suggested the link between climate change and health was weak. "The question is not a scientific one. It is a legal and political question, of how much impact justifies the extraordinary use of the Clean Air Act," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of power companies. While no one doubts that more people die in a heat wave, the question is whether that death is "related to manmade greenhouse gas emissions," he said.