President Barack Obama unveiled the final version of his plan to cut emissions from U.S. power plants Monday, flanked by parents of pediatric asthma patients, medical professionals and Environmental Protection Agency officials. Calling it the “single most important step” America has taken to fight climate change, Obama outlined a plan that the White House said will help to reduce 90,000 asthma attacks in children by 2030, as well as prevent premature deaths related to power plant emissions and cut down on missed school and work days.
“We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and we’re the last generation that can do something about it,” Obama said. “We only get one planet. There’s no Plan B.”
Under the proposed plan, the U.S. must cut overall power plant emissions 32 percent by 2030. Sixteen states face stricter emissions regulations than they did under Obama’s previous proposal introduced last year. The administration previously predicted the move would cost up to $8.8 billion annually by 2030, while bumping electricity prices about 4.9 percent by 2020 and prompting coal-fired power plants to close.
The Obama administration has, throughout his presidency, sought to tie respiratory illnesses across the population to climate change. Obama previously said his memory of the fear over his daughter's preschool asthma attacks brings home the debate over climate change. The president said knows firsthand how scary it can be to have a child who struggles to breathe.
Asthma is a chronic condition related to the inflammation and irritation of the breathing tube or airway. While it can be tied to family history and genetics, studies have also linked it to factors in the environment, viral infections, allergies, second-hand smoke and poor air quality.
Dr. Amy Shah, an asthma, allergy and immunology specialist at Valley E.N.T. in Arizona told FoxNews.com that older, coal-fired power plants that burn coal without any pollution control emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide, a known respiratory irritant associated with asthma attacks.
“It’s a known trigger and it’s definitely released a lot more in the older plants than newer, but in all coal burning power plants you get that,” she said.
Dr. Sumita Khatri, co-director of the Asthma Center at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, who was named by Obama during his speech for her pulmonary research, echoed Shah and told FoxNews.com that in addition to family history and other predispositions, poor air quality and extreme temperatures play a large role in triggering asthmatic episodes.
“The carbon pollution you see in the atmosphere does affect the wide ranges of temperatures, which, in itself, are triggers for people with asthma,” Khatri told FoxNews.com. She added that even for healthy people, extreme temperatures can cause ozone pollution exposure, which can be an irritant to the lungs.
“Not everybody sees that correlation because ozone has a lag affect,” Kharti said. “If you’ve been exposed to ozone, it could be 24- to 48-hours when you get that peak inflammatory affect, and by that time you forgot you were outside two days ago.”
Other factors can be to blame for triggering an asthmatic episode, which occur when a patient experiences a shortness of breath, trouble breathing, coughing and chest tightness. According to Kharti, dirty air particles produced from vehicles and manufacturing exhaust can cause similar inflammatory properties in the lungs.
According to Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, the rates of asthma are worse in urban areas because of higher pollution. Horovitz told FoxNews.com that he advises his patients to use air filtration systems in the their homes to remove particulate matter.
“Every day, I treat more patients and get more phone calls, especially on days when humidity increases or an air quality alert is put out, it parallels with the number of phone calls I get,” Horovitz said.
However, it’s not just urban patients who have seen an uptick in asthma symptoms. Shah said asthma rates are skyrocketing, especially in children.
“We see people all the time that have asthma attacks during high ozone days, and high pollutant days, not just in the cities also in the suburbs,” Shah told FoxNews.com.
Kharti, Horovitz and Shah believe Obama’s plan is a step in the right direction for improving air quality -- not just for asthma sufferers -- but for the population as a whole.
“We’re not just talking about asthma, we’re talking about cardiac issues as well,” Horovitz said.
Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and assistant clinical professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, also agrees that any opportunity to improve air quality and reduce particulate air pollutants from power plants is advantageous.
“Anytime we can have an opportunity to improve air quality and, in particular, reduce particulate air pollutants from power plants it is a win-win for society at large,” Bassett told FoxNews.com.
Whether or not the plan will take affect remains to be seen, as it will be up to Obama’s successor to implement it. Many Republican-led states have said their states won’t comply, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell encouraging governors to take that route while vowing to use legislation to thwart the plan.
More than a dozen states and coal industry companies are expected to announce plans to file lawsuits over the plan. Industry officials have expressed hesitation over the plan’s cost and timetable, with Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., calling the plan “unachievable without great economic pain.”
“I think that the concern for the states are jobs, and I think that as with any change there is always going to be a backlash from the status quo,” Shah said. “But if you think about it, it may create more jobs in the industry with trying to figure out how to produce plants safely.”
Kharti said she can see both sides of the argument, but urges critics to envision the bigger picture.
“I can understand that their incentive is to stay in business, so I can’t argue for that reason,” Kharti said. “None of us want to see anyone harmed in any way, through any kind of legislation, we just need to think about our public and our people,” she said, adding that there currently aren’t any alternative plans aimed at cleaning the air.
“I’m not going to tell them how to do their job, but I do think there are opportunities to work together to better our health, because everyone benefits from that.”