Environmental Issues > Air Main Page > All Air Documents

Why is EPA Moving to Limit Industrial Carbon Pollution?

America’s power plants are our biggest industrial polluters. Each year they pump more than two billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon pollution is causing climate change that drives dangerous heat waves and worsening smog pollution, which causes asthma attacks and other serious respiratory illnesses.

Thus climate change looms as one of our most serious public health threats; yet few people are aware of the many dangers posed by a warming planet.

These include:

  • Air Pollution: Warming temperatures worsen smog pollution, which triggers asthma attacks and permanently damages and reduces the function of children’s lungs. Higher smog levels even contribute to premature deaths.
  • Heat-related Disease and Illness: As temperatures rise, so do deaths and illnesses related to heat stress, heatstroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.
  • Infectious Disease: Climate change affects patterns of diseases such as dengue fever, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease. Increasing temperatures and rainfall have been associated with increased occurrence and transmission of insect-borne diseases like West Nile virus. Higher temperatures can lead to more rapid development of dangerous pathogens within insect carriers and allow these diseases to expand their range into new, once cooler, regions. Approximately 173 million Americans in at least 28 states live in counties with mosquitoes that can carry dengue fever, a painful viral illness that has increased globally 30-fold in the last 50 years.
  • Drought: Projected temperature increases in the summer will increase the likelihood of water shortages and drought, threatening the availability of water for drinking and irrigation. Droughts harm crops, diminishing food variety, nutritional content, and availability.
  • Floods: Warmer air holds more moisture, so when it rains it’s more likely to pour, increasing the risk of flooding. Warmer ocean temperatures have also been linked to more powerful hurricanes and other storms.

The potential health impacts are also expensive. In 2011, NRDC studied six types of climate change-related types of events in the U.S. between 2002 and 2009 -- episodes of ozone air pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, outbreaks of infectious disease, river flooding, and wildfires. All are projected to increase in severity, frequency, or extent with climate change. We found that associated health costs exceeded $14 billion. That included deaths, illnesses, and more than 760,000 visits to the doctor, hospital, emergency room or other health care facilities. (These health effects were described in a paper in the national journal Health Affairs, and can be accessed here.)

Find out how these serious climate-health threats impact your community >> Climate Change Threatens Health

Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council launched a powerful new ad to build public awareness of and support for tough, new safeguards against industrial carbon pollution from power plants and other clean air standards. Watch the video below and join us by telling the EPA that you support standards to reduce carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.



BLOG: What would happen if all the lobbyists for polluters were replaced with asthmatic children?

The Background

It is EPA’s duty to protect public health from air and water pollution.

In a landmark 2007 decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the agency has an obligation to limit industrial carbon pollution and other global warming pollutants under the Clean Air Act—should EPA find them to be public health threats.

The agency did just that, issuing an Endangerment finding that summarized and documented the serious threats to public health posed by global warming.

And the Supreme Court in 2011, in a second case, American Electric Power v. Connecticut, reaffirmed its earlier decision.

On March 27th, the EPA issued the first-ever national standards for industrial carbon pollution, which applies to new power plants -- those that haven’t yet been built.

The next step is to improve our aging fleet of existing coal-fired power plants, which are the largest single source of industrial carbon pollution.

Polluters and their allies in Congress are fighting hard against cleaning up carbon pollution. But NRDC is working to make sure that EPA is not blocked from moving forward with these vital protections for our health.

Want to know who are the big carbon polluters in your own backyard? Look them up using EPA’s new web tool, which identifies major carbon pollution sources throughout the country.


Recent Blog Posts by NRDC Experts:

RELEASE: New Carbon Pollution Standard is Good for Our Health, Our Economy and Our Planet

last revised 3/27/2012

Sign up for NRDC's online newsletter

See the latest issue >

Give the Gift That Will Make a Difference: Take Down a Polluter

NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs

Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.


Donate now >

Related Links and Resources

Share | |
Find NRDC on
YouTube