Environmental and Health Groups Praise Bill to Find Climate Change and Public Health Preparedness

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Trust for America's Health (TFAH), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) praised legislation introduced late yesterday to improve the public health response to climate change. The bill is sponsored by the Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health, U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (CA/Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura County), and cosponsored by U.S. Reps. Doris Matsui (CA/Sacramento) and Tammy Baldwin (WI/Madison, Beloit).

The bill introduction follows the official finding in April by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that climate change endangers human health and welfare, and the introduction of draft climate legislation, "The American Clean Energy and Security Act," by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and House Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA). Global warming is expected to worsen many health problems, including heat-related illness, diarrheal and other infectious diseases, and respiratory illness associated with ozone and allergens in the air.

Climate change is a concern to most public health agencies, but few of them have resources to tackle the problem, according to a national survey conducted last year by Environmental Defense Fund, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and George Mason University. Congress needs to provide $200 million to sponsor research for climate change and public health in federal agencies, according to a recent report in Environmental Health Perspectives, the peer-reviewed journal published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The bill, the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act, would direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop, in consultation with other governmental and non-governmental partners, a national strategic action plan for addressing the impacts of climate change on public health. It would also authorize funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research the health effects of climate change and identify greenhouse gas reduction behaviors that are health promoting, as well as bolster climate change preparedness planning around the country.

"As a nurse for two decades, Rep. Capps understands that climate change will be a life and death issue for many Americans if we don't prepare for its health impacts," said EDF Chief Health Scientist Dr. John Balbus, who is a member of the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research and Medicine. "Reps. Matsui and Baldwin also deserve credit for cosponsoring this bill because it is a critical step in protecting public health from the varied threats posed by climate change."

"Reps. Capps, Matsui and Baldwin are providing invaluable leadership by recognizing and promoting new and innovative ways to prepare for the health risks of climate change," said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., Executive Director of TFAH. "We're already witnessing how climate change is leading to new health problems. This bill would help ensure that public health officials across the country -- who we rely on to protect us from infectious disease outbreaks and other health emergencies -- can meet the challenges we face."

"Children, the elderly, and people with many common medical conditions -- such as diabetes and asthma -- are especially at risk as the climate warms and health threats multiply," said Gina Solomon, M.D., M.P.H., Senior Scientist at NRDC. "We need to prepare today, so people don't suffer tomorrow."

The Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act also would authorize the CDC to:

  • Provide technical support to state, local, and tribal health departments in forecasting local effects, developing preparedness plans, and communicating with the public about the health effects of climate change;
  • Develop training programs for public health professionals on the health risks and interventions related to climate change;
  • Enhance domestic and international tracking capacity for infectious diseases and environmental health indicators;
  • Contract with the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine to prepare a report that assesses the needs for health professionals to prepare for and respond to climate change impacts on public health and recommends programs to meet those needs. The report would be due within 18 months after the bill becomes law.

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