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 Hill's Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies Bill and Chelsea Clinton announce podcast launch for summer Can Scott Gottlieb reverse the opioid crisis? 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.


“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: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Overnight Energy: Trump order to trim science panels sparks outrage | Greens ask watchdog to investigate Interior's records policies | EPA to allow use of pesticide harmful to bees 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 JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Overnight Energy: Historic heat wave is double whammy for climate change | Trump sees 'bigger problems' than plastic straws | House Science chair threatens EPA over 'stonewalled' answers Science committee chair threatens EPA over 'stonewalled' answers to lawmakers 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.”