The Clean Air Act has Potential for at Risk Populations

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On August 3rd , 2015, president Obama and the EPA announced the finalization of the Clean Power Plan, which sets a first ever national limit on carbon pollution emitted by the electric power sector. Before then, electric plants, which contribute 31 percent total carbon emissions in the U.S., had the freedom to emit as much pollution as they pleased. Not only does the plan aim to help the United States step down from being one of the largest contributors to climate change, it allows at risk communities to step up and interact with the state government to change polluted air conditions.

It’s not uncommon to hear of low-income minorities living in higher polluted conditions compared to more affluent white neighborhoods. It is a problem long known where a 20 yearlong study from 1987 to 2007 by the United Church of Christ found that 56 percent and 30 percent of people of color and low socioeconomic live in commercially hazardous host neighborhoods (i.e. where these facilities and neighborhoods are very close, overlapping one another within a 3 kilometer area) and non-host neighborhoods, respectively. To show how high the disparages are, a study published by the University of Minnesota found that nationally, minorities are on average exposed to 38 percent higher levels of NO2, a contributor to asthma and heart attacks, than white communities. With increased exposure to harmful chemicals chances of developing health problems, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease increases as well.

The Clean Power Plan has the potential to significantly reduce these harmful emissions across the nation and possibly give communities who are at most risk of facing air pollution the much needed attention they deserve. The CPP requires States to demonstrate how they involved communities in decisions while creating a plan to meet CO2 emission standards, which can make it easier for some people to provide input on what strategies may benefit or harm their neighborhoods. With the CPP in full effect, the plan claims asthma in children is expected to be slashed by as much as 70 percent or 90,000 less attacks, prevent 3,600 premature deaths, and eliminate CO2 emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

The CPP prioritizes early investment in energy efficient projects in low income communities. The plan hopes this will speed up the process in switching to greener energy sources, thereby cutting carbon emissions quicker. When states submit their plans, they are required to show how they are engaged with the vulnerable communities. States are given flexibility when choosing a plan; one such option would be to increase efficiency at power plants, generating more power with less pollution. Adopting natural gas generation over coal could be another route to cleaner air, where carbon emissions are as half as much versus coal. The cleanest choice, however, is increasing electricity that originated from greener sources such as wind or solar power, in which there are virtually no carbon emissions.

The Clean Power Plan was drafted with ideas and comments from 4 million people concerned about the air. The plan has the potential to progress further by incorporating involvement from communities nationwide and could provide Americans with clean energy and clean air for the future. To learn more about the exciting changes taking place, click on this link for a fact sheet published by the White House.

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By Leanna Theam. I grew up in the suburbs of sunny Southern California then moved to the opposite end of California to a small college