White House makes public health pitch for climate change action

Climate change puts public health at risk and more needs to be done to mitigate that threat, White House officials said on Tuesday. 

Longer, hotter summers will lead to longer allergy seasons and more respiratory problems, officials, including Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek Hallegere MurthyThe Surgeon General's deafening silence on gun violence We must act to address gun violence The Hill's Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies MORE, warned. Wildfires will send smoke and soot into the air and smog will develop in big cities. Insects will expand their territories and bring diseases with them, and extreme weather will strain emergency health services.

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“Climate change is not just the biggest environmental challenge of our time, it is the biggest public health challenge of our time,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group Overnight Energy: Automakers group sides with Trump in emissions lawsuit | Latest on California wildfires | Walden won't seek reelection | Park Service scraps plan to charge protesters for security MORE said at a White House summit on climate change and health. 

Officials promoted a handful of EPA regulations as the backbone of the administration’s work on climate change, including a proposed rule on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But they said more work needs to happen to protect people from health problems induced by climate change.

The White House announced an assortment of measures to minimize the public health impacts on Tuesday, including an excessive heat warning system and an emphasis on tracking and publicizing climate change’s impact on people. 

The new initiatives, and the White House’s summit, come the same day a medical journal released a major report on climate change’s effects on public health and after the EPA published a study on the economic results of combating it. 

Public health, Obama energy and environment adviser Brian Deese said, “is what’s motivating President Obama to put this at the top of his agenda, both domestically and internationally, for the rest of his term.”

Murthy said he is optimistic about the work being done to combat climate change in both the public and private sectors. But he warned that climate change will disproportionately hurt those with already vulnerable health, such as the poor, children and the elderly. 

“Addressing climate change is not just a health issue but it is a moral issue and each of us has a responsibility to do what we can, as much as we can, for as long as we can,” he said.

The summit comes before the House begins considering legislation to block key aspects of Obama’s environment and climate change agenda. Lawmakers will vote this week on a bill to restrict the power plant rule, and they will begin debating a spending measure that would block other EPA rules and cut the agency’s funding.

At the White House on Tuesday, Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonPelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention What has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks MORE (D-Tex.) defended the agency and its rules. 

“The EPA gets bashed, bashed, bashed, but let me applaud the EPA for standing strong and looking out for health,” she said. “The American people need a strong EPA to protect their rights for clean air and water.”