Letter: Michigan, move past coal

In his May 4 column, “Energy for the 21st century,” State Rep. Aric Nesbitt inaccurately blames the closure of Michigan’s old, coal-fired power plants on important health safeguards. The fact is Michigan has some of the oldest, most inefficient and most polluting power plants in the nation. They’re far past their prime and they emit dangerous levels of mercury, arsenic and other toxic pollution that are linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory diseases like asthma.

The safeguards announced last year to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants will protect public health, address climate change and smooth our transition to clean energy.

A recent study completed by scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health, School of Public Health at Boston University, and Syracuse University found that safeguards to reduce carbon pollution will save thousands of lives in the U.S. every year. The study found that such policies would lead almost immediately to cleaner air and improved health—preventing premature deaths, hospitalizations and heart attacks.

In Michigan, policies to reduce carbon pollution will save nearly 2,000 lives and prevent hundreds of heart attacks and hospitalizations.

Policies to reduce carbon pollution tackle climate change head-on. Climate change impacts our health a number of ways, from increasing risk of asthma and lung disease, to causing more frequent extreme weather changes, to increasing transmission of infection diseases.

Children, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic diseases are most susceptible to the detrimental health impacts of climate change. By reducing carbon pollution and addressing climate change, we’ll be protecting and improving the health of our most vulnerable.

May is Asthma Awareness Month. It’s a peak season for asthma and allergy sufferers, and a perfect time to talk about the health impacts of our energy choices. Nearly one million Michiganians suffer from asthma, including more than 200,000 children. Michigan’s asthma rates are more than 10 percent higher than the national average. It’s time our policymakers do something about it rather than blaming health safeguards for closing coal plants which have already been red-tagged for demolition.

As Michigan’s old, inefficient coal plants close, we have a real opportunity to pave the way for a cleaner energy future that reduces pollution and gives us cleaner and healthier air. By transitioning from coal to clean, renewable energy and reducing energy waste, we can reduce the dangerous pollution that is linked to heart and lung disease. We’ll leave a cleaner and healthier Michigan for future generations to enjoy.

Kathleen Slonager, executive director,

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America—

Michigan chapter